December 19, 2013
Caution: your chicken is likely contaminated with fecal matter as well as bacterium that is resistant to antibiotics. At least, that's what Consumer Reports has discovered through sampling more than 300 raw chicken breasts from stores across the United States.
More than half the samples contained fecal contaminants, enterococcus and E. coli. Of the 65.2% of chickens that tested positive for E. coli, 17.5% consisted of a type that is more likely to make a person ill with a urinary-tract infection, according to the report.
Sampling also revealed that roughly half of the birds were contaminated with at least one bacterium that was resistant to at least three commonly prescribed antibiotics.
"Antibiotic-resistant infections are linked to at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. And if antibiotic-resistant bacteria continue their scary spread, they could lead to deadly infection after routine surgery or even a seemingly innocuous cut because the drugs that doctors prescribe will have lose their effectiveness," Consumer Reports warned.
The results were published just days after FDA announced a plan to reduce food animals' use of antibiotics for production purposes. The FDA will ask animal pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily revise FDA-approved uses on the labels, so that antimicrobial drugs that are considered important for treating human infection cannot be used for production purposes.
Responding to the Consumer Reports article, the National Chicken Council declared 99.99% of the 160 million daily servings of chicken are safe. The trade association also pointed out that outbreaks related to E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens fell by more than 40% from 2001 through 2010, the latest period for which data is available.
"Eliminating bacteria entirely is always the goal. But in reality, it's simply not feasible," National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said in a statement.
Consumer Reports purchased 316 chicken breasts from grocery chains, big-box stores and regional markets in 26 states. The poultry was tested for six bacteria: Salmonella, Campylobacter, staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, enterococcus, and klebsiella pneumoniae.
Enterococcus, a typical measure of fecal contamination, was found in 79.8% of samples, according to the report. The second most common bacteria was E. coli (65.2%), followed by Campylobacter (43%), klebsiella pneumoniae (13.6%), Salmonella (10.8%) and staphylococcus aureus (9.2%).
In total, 97% of the chicken breasts tested positive for some bacterium. Consumer Reports found no difference in the occurrence of bacteria between conventional brands like Tyson and Pilgrim's and brands that were labeled as "no antibiotics" or "organic".
Although it is normal for birds' intestinal tract to carry such bacteria as Campylobacter and Salmonella, the pathogens can be transferred to the meat when the birds are slaughtered and under cramped conditions in which the chickens come into contact with feces, J. Glenn Morris Jr., M.D., director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, said in the Consumer Reports article.
The National Chicken Council and other point out that consumers can kill Salmonella and other pathogens by properly cooking chicken. Health officials say poultry should be cooked at 165º Fahrenheit.
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