What You Need to Know When You Buy Chicken
A Pew study found that chicken sold in retailers is likely to contain nasty bacteria like salmonella and E. coli.
A stomach-churning Consumer Reports analysis found that we're eating a lot of tainted chicken, and have concluded that more needs to be done to protect Americans. The Pew Charitable Trusts has called for stronger food safety standards after finding high levels of salmonella and other bacteria in chicken sold at retailers.
“When more than 500 people get sick from two outbreaks associated with chicken that meets federal safety standards, it is clear that those standards are not effectively protecting public health,” said Sandra Eskin, director of Pew’s food safety project, in a statement.
The Consumer Reports found that 79.8% of the poultry from retailers contained enterococcus, 65.2% contained E. coli, and 10.8% had salmonella contamination.
Pew researchers looked at two outbreaks that came from chicken at Foster Farms in Calif., including the nasty virulent salmonella outbreak in back in October that was linked to three Foster Farms’ chicken processing plants in central California, sickening nearly 500 people (and possibly up to 14,000) in 20 states and Puerto Rico, according to reports.
The USDA threatened to close the Fresno and Livingston, Calif. plants but decided NOT to follow through after the company met a deadline to show improvements at the facilities. The USDA also pointed fingers directly at BBQ chicken lovers, saying that since raw chicken is supposed to be cooked properly, the plants do not need to be closed.
The nasty salmonella strain
This isn't your grandmother's salmonella. According to reports, more than 40 percent have been hospitalized, about double the usual rate, as the Heidelberg strain is resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics. Additionally, 13 percent of those sickened have salmonella septicemia, a potentially deadly, whole-body inflammation.
Most of the bacteria won’t cause disease if the chicken is cooked properly,
but as Seattle-based food-safety attorney Bill Marler, who is suing Foster Farms on behalf of a Florida salmonella victim puts it, "There's nothing natural about chicken shit on your meat."
New food-safety guidelines
As TIME compiled from the study, to prevent contamination, the Pew report recommends the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service adopt stronger standards for keeping poultry safe by:
- Updating limits for salmonella contamination for chicken regularly
- Considering establishing limits on salmonella contamination for chickens when they enter the slaughterhouse
- Conducting unannounced salmonella testing in chicken processing facilities.
- Communicating outbreaks to consumers over public health alerts as early as possible.
- Closing facilities under investigation for failing to produce safe food, and keep them closed until adequate control measures are in place
Are you sworn off eating chicken?