Half of Raw Chicken Sold Contains Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria: What You Need to Know

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A Consumer Reports analysis found disturbingly high levels of salmonella and other bacteria in chicken sold at retailers and a new report [PDF] from the Pew Charitable Trusts calls for stronger U.S. food safety standards.

“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.

Pew researchers looked at two outbreaks that came from chicken at Foster Farms in Calif., the sixth largest chicken producer in the U.S. The first occurred between June 2012 and May 2013 and infected 134 people  in Oregon and Washington with salmonella Heidelberg. Another outbreak started in March 2013, and is ongoing. So far, 389 people in 23 states and Puerto Rico were sickened from a variety of salmonella Heidelberg strains. Many of these strains are resistant to several commonly prescribed antibiotics.

The Pew researchers say that current food safety policies are not protecting Americans and need to be strengthened.

According to USA Today, until recently the U. S. Department of Agriculture did not require manufacturers to maintain germ-free conditions throughout the butchering and processing phases, and allowed for some contamination to occur, as long as the bacteria was removed by washing or with antimicrobial treatments. On Dec. 4, the USDA announced a Salmonella Action Plan and is working on an updated Poultry Processing Rule in n effort to prevent raw meat from becoming contaminated. “It’s not feasible to take a live animal and remove its outsides and its insides without there being contamination, but we can minimize it,” Dan Englejohn, deputy assistant administrator of USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, told USA Today.

The Food and Drug Administration also released new antibiotic guidelines for agriculture last week, in order to limit use of the drugs to treating animals that are sick, rather than using them as a way to boost growth, as many farmers currently do. Those steps may be critical to ensuring that the chicken that consumers buy contains less of the potentially harmful bacteria that Consumer Reports found — 79.8% of the poultry from retailers contained enterococcus, 65.2% contained E. coli, and 10.8% had salmonella contamination.

Most of the bacteria won’t cause disease if the chicken is cooked properly, to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, say health experts, but if more microbes are present, bacteria can be transferred to utensils and cooking areas and potentially expose people and make them sick.

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

Whether the USDA will implement these measures, and whether they will help to reduce microbial contamination of raw poultry, remains to be seen. In a statement responding to the reports, the National Chicken Council, a trade group for the poultry industry, noted that 99.9% of the 160 million servings of chicken Americans eat each day are safe. Mike Brown, the group’s president said, “Eliminating bacteria entirely is always the goal. But in reality, it’s simply not feasible.”

8 comments
eetom
eetom

Given time, will our bodies develop a resistance to these antibiotic-resistant-bacteria?  If so, given more time will other bacteria develop a resistance to our bodies' resistance?  And, given still more time... 

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irie
irie

If you got sick  (as I am right now), you'd care. Young and healthy, never had food poisoning in my life (until now). My current advice: don't eat meat that you don't cook yourself. Minimizing antibiotic use on poultry prevents super-bugs and is a good idea, too.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

There's a difference between what's safe to eat and what isn't.  In the case of chicken, it's about 165 degrees.  

Virtually EVERY piece of chicken contains bacteria that, if eaten raw, would likely sicken someone (usually, but not always, those who have weak immune systems).  Properly COOKED, however, it's perfectly safe regardless of the raw chicken bacteria count.  The fact is, people get sick over chicken because it's UNDERCOOKED. 

Those who get sick eating properly cooked chicken didn't get it from the chicken.  They probably got it from the potato salad that was left out for too long.


Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

And to be fair, if 500 people got sick off of Raw meat out of 330,000,000 in a one year span, i would say that aint to shabby.  By far the best rate I bet in the history of the world.

I bet more than 500 people went to the hospital for stepping on a thumb tack in the past year.  Therefore it is in my opinion that Thumbtacks are more dangerous than Chicken

Realworldnonfantasyland
Realworldnonfantasyland

Sensationalist media grabbing headline :  As the quote below says, the headline should be 0.1% of chicken you eat is not safe.  Probably won't get clicks though

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noted that 99.9% of the 160 million servings of chicken Americans eat each day are safe
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DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@Realworldnonfantasyland I like your analogy, but your statistics aren't correct.  A hell of a lot more than just 500 people get sick from eating raw meat each year in the U.S.  But if only 500 people got sick eating chicken, it was due to cross-contamination or it was certainly undercooked (rather than raw).  330 million people didn't eat raw meat, either.   

If 330 million people ate raw chicken, you'd easily see a few hundred million people get violently sick.  All forms of food borne illnesses hit an estimated 48 million Americans each year. (2011 statistics)

Preparing meats should always be done separately, and all surfaces thoroughly washed and disinfected before preparing other foods - especially foods that aren't going to be cooked. That avoids the cross contamination that likely causes food borne illnesses.

And with those corrections, your post makes better sense - especially in light of the fact chickens are pathetically dirty (as in bacteria-ridden) birds.