Contaminated Chicken For Dinner?

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Just the thought makes you sick without even taking a bite. Most ‘big business’chickens live in squalor until they meet their doom. That’s no surprise. But shouldn’t they be clean and bacteria free by the time they hit the grocery? Apparently not…especially for Tyson and Foster Farms birds.

Consumer Reports, who has been following contamination in store-bought chickens since 1998, has released their latest unappetizing findings: two-thirds of fresh, whole broilers contain salmonella and/or campylobactor…two serious food borne pathogens that cause illness and too often death. That’s a smidgen of improvement from 2007 when eight out of ten broilers housed the same pathogens.

Each year, these types of bacteria infect at least 3.4 million Americans, rush 25,500 to hospitals, and kill about 650…550 from food borne salmonella and 100 from campylobacter, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The numbers are probably higher since many people who are ravaged with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea don’t seek medical attention or if they do, are not screened for food borne infections that can lead to long-term adverse health conditions.

Consumer Reports didn’t base their findings on only a few chickens. They hired an outside lab to test 382 birds from more than 100 supermarkets, gourmet-and natural-food stores, and mass merchandisers in 22 states. They were purchased last spring. Tyson, Perdue, and Foster Farms were the big top three brands along with 30 nonorganic store brands, nine organic store brands, and nine organic name brands. Five of the organic ones were “air-chilled,” a term used for refrigerating and sometimes misting the carcasses instead of plunging them in chlorinated cold water.

Winners and losers? Unfortunately, campylobacter surfaced in 62 percent of the fowl, salmonella was in 14 percent, while 9 percent of the chickens harbored both pathogens. That’s a one in three chance of buying a bird that isn’t infested with bacteria.

~The cleanest of the bunch were the air-chilled broilers such as organic Bell & Evans birds.

~No salmonella in the store brand organic chicken but 57 percent hosted campylobacter.

~Perdue was the winner in the name brand coop, with 56 percent free of both pathogens. According to Consumer Reports, this was the first time since the inception of chicken testing that one major player beat the others significantly.

~Tyson and Foster Farms were the losers with the nastiest birds. More than 80 percent tested positive for one or both pathogens. It’s time these huge companies revamp their thinking and policies to put consumer health ahead of greedy profits.

~Among all brands of birds tested, 68 percent of the salmonella and 60 percent of the campylobacter organisms analyzed were resistant to one or more antibiotics. Distressing news if you pick the wrong chicken and become ill.

Supposedly, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires chicken producers to test for salmonella…not so for campylobacter, which can lead to arthritis, meningitis, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a devastating neurological condition.

It’s imperative that the USDA cracks down and holds the poultry industry accountable. Until that happens, consumers need to be especially vigilant. Brand recognition, tempting advertising and packaging do not guarantee safety.

There is no assurance that the tested top brands will consistently be bacteria free but they are a better bet than those on the bottom of the coop. Tyson and Foster Farms…shame on you.