Store-bought Chicken Unsafe

store bought chicken is funkyIt has been well over ten years since news of harmful bacteria in store bought chicken became mainstream knowledge.  In 2010, I wrote an article pointing out that Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria from chicken and other foods infect 3.4 million Americans, send 25500 to hospitals, and kill about 500.  Its 2013 and its time for an update!

In May 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed new rules that aim to reduce salmonella in broilers and turkeys, and also establish limits for campylobacter (for the first time!).  The USDA aims to publish names of plants that don’t meet the revised standards for salmonella and will consider naming those that don’t meet the campylobacter standards.

In June 2011, the FDA recommended, but is not going to enforce, steps that would limit antibiotic use in chicken and other animals to reduce the amount of antibiotics humans consume.  (Ingesting antibiotics in our food makes us resistant to antibiotics in general, so when they’re really “needed,” we have to have much higher doses which increases chances of tearing your gut, and many other fun health problems…)

These are nice steps towards making our foods safer, but they certainly don’t go far enough.  Considering the following statistics published by Consumer Reports, these are clearly some worthless gestures initiated by an industry with deep pockets and no intention of cutting back their profits:

  • Campylobacter bacteria was in 62% of the chickens
  • Salmonella bacteria was in 14% of the chickens
  • 34% were clear of both bacteria, in 2003 they reported that 51% were clear of both!
  • Store brand organic chicken had no Salmonella, but 57% did had Campylobacter
  • 68% of Salmonella, and 60% of Campylobacter bacterias showed resistance to one or more antibiotics

Both bacteria can cause nausea, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches, and lead to the need for hospitalization.  Campylobacter especially can be fatal.

What can you do?  The main thing to keep in mind is that cooking the chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit is thought to kill the bacteria.  The safest thing to do is have a cooking thermometer and check your chicken.

You should also keep the juices of the uncooked chicken away from your hands, the counter, and other places that you can come in contact with.

Jan 2012 update

Not so new information about dioxins from the government points out that next to fish, the highest levels of dioxins are now found in eggs!  Dioxins are carcinogens in the atmosphere that accumulate in the fatty tissue of animals, including humans.

Nov 2013 update

A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) reveals that inorganic arsenic is still prevalent in virtually all conventional chicken meat!

The chemical Nitarsone is given to chickens to make them grow faster and to give the meat a pinker color.  Nitarson is an arsenic drug similar in composition to Roxarsone which was being fed to chickens up until 2011.   The FDA has not banned either roxarsone or nitarsone!

2 Comments

    Kathryn Hildebrandt

    This article seems to contradicts itself. Limiting antibiotic use in livestock is a good thing – but the purpose is not to prevent the proliferation of naturally occurring bacteria. On the contrary, antibiotics were introduced in the first place, to try to prevent all presence of any bacteria. This is not natural, and upsets the balance of nature. For example, bacteria and fungi are natural enemies. In the complete absence of bacteria, fungi flourish, and when allowed to over-populate, can be far more harmful to our health and that of our livestock. Antibiotic usage also can contribute to the development of resistant strains of bacteria (as were mentioned in the article).

    In a healthy population of birds, it is normal and natural for some salmonella to be present. Ordinary salmonella (not the “super-germ” type) is not that great a threat to most people, just an unpleasant, temporary nuisance if one is infected. Healthy adults need only heed the standard advice about handling and adequately cooking poultry products, and avoiding cross-contamination between the uncooked product and foods that will be served raw (such as lettuce for a salad). However, more care must be taken by and for the very young, the elderly, and the immuno-suppressed. For them, products using raw or partially-cooked eggs should be avoided.

      Afshin

      I see what you mean about the article seeming to contract itself. You’re quite right, limiting antibiotic use in livestock is a good thing, and the gov’t isn’t helping that situation. Also what the article implies, but doesn’t spell out is that they’re not catching the huge number of cases where we are being sold chicken with harmful bacteria; and the solution isn’t to give more antibiotics.

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