Tag Archives: Chicken

Chicken and the Other Foodborne Illnesses

Ninety-seven percent of raw chicken in U.S. supermarkets is contaminated with bacteria that could make you sick, according to a new Consumer Reports study. That’s important to remember. But it’s a bit like saying 97 percent of cigarettes could give you bad breath. Compared to the numerous other negative health impacts of eating chicken, food poisoning might actually be the least of your worries.Physicians Committee Five Worst Contaminants in Chicken Inforgraphic

Foodborne illnesses are a serious threat to public health—taking the lives of about 3,000 Americans annually—and the poultry industry has no excuse for selling bacteria-laden meat. But contaminated or not, chicken is not safe to eat—it never has been.

Many people are surprised to learn that chicken is one of the top sources of saturated fat and the second leading source of cholesterol in the American diet. In these respects, it ranks right up there with burgers, bacon, and beef. Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol lead to blocked arteries, stroke, and heart attack. Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is responsible for one out of every four deaths.

A passion for poultry also puts Americans at higher risk of obesity, diabetes, and cancer. Chicken is the leading source of HCAs—heterocyclic amines—which are cancer-causing chemicals that form as meat—especially chicken—is cooked.

It’s time we started recognizing these diet-related conditions as the other foodborne illnesses… and tracing them back to chicken.

Fecal Chunks in Pork: The Other Contaminated Meat

The USDA is moving forward with its plan to cut the number of meat inspectors at pig slaughterhouses nationwide, despite reports of increased fecal contamination from facilities currently testing the program. Similar guidelines are currently in place at dozens of chicken processing plants, resulting in fewer inspectors examining a greater number of carcasses at faster speeds for visible fecal matter.

Physicians Committee Five Worst Contaminants in Chicken Inforgraphic

The new pork inspection pilot programs have exhibited substandard health monitoring with a greater incidence of fecal contamination in meat products. It doesn’t take a safety inspector to know that feces harbors a number of potentially dangerous bacteria, including both E. coli and listeria.

The Physicians Committee has previously examined the various contaminants in chicken and found the results alarming. Please see the infographic (click to enlarge) for more details on the Five Worst Contaminants in Chicken.

Considering all the health and safety risks, the best course of action for consumers is to leave the meat on the grocery shelves. (And sanitize your shopping cart while you’re at it.) Pick up a box of lentils instead and make a spicy curry or some hearty lentils burgers. Your cholesterol (and your unscathed intestines) will thank you.

And if neither nutrition nor foodborne illness is enough to set off your alarm bells, here’s a quote out of yesterday’s Washington Post from a representative of the inspectors union: “Tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses… Not small bits, but chunks.”

Chunks.

Chicken Should Carry Feces Warning Label

Buy a chicken from any grocery store in America and you are likely to get more than you bargained for. Feces taint one in every two supermarket chickens, according to testing recently conducted by an independent laboratory at PCRM’s request.Grocery store chicken

The problem seems to be widespread. We collected chicken products from 15 different grocery store chains in 10 major U.S. cities. These were chickens marketed by Perdue, Pilgrim’s, and 22 other brands.

When the results came back, we discovered that 48 percent of the samples had tested positive for fecal contamination, as indicated by the presence of E. coli, a bacterium in chicken feces. The germs are used in USDA and industry testing as an indicator of fecal contamination.

How does fecal contamination make its way from chicken farms and slaughterhouses to the plastic-wrapped packages at your grocery store? It’s a dirty business.

A large chicken processing plant may slaughter more than 1 million birds a week. Chickens are stunned, killed, bled, and sent through scalding tanks. These tanks of water transfer feces from one dead bird to another.

After scalding, feathers and intestines are mechanically removed. Intestinal contents can spill onto machinery and contaminate the muscles and organs of that chicken and the birds that follow.

The carcasses are then rinsed with chlorinated water and—theoretically—checked for visible fecal matter. But slaughter lines process up to 140 birds per minute, and federal food safety inspectors are allowed little time to examine each carcass.

That could soon change—for the worse. The U.S. Department of Agriculture may begin to allow chicken plants to conduct their own inspections and speed up lines to 200 birds per minute. That will make it even harder for inspectors to detect contamination.

After this cursory inspection, chickens are packaged and shipped to stores. Americans eat an average of more than 83 pounds of chicken a year—and most have no idea that the supermarket chicken on their dining room table has a one in two chance of being contaminated with fecal matter.

Who cares, the chicken industry says. If the feces are adequately cooked, any germs they harbor will be killed. But feces may contain round worms, hair worms, tape worms, along leftover bits of whatever insects or larvae the chickens have eaten, not to mention the usual fecal components of digestive juices and various chemicals that the chicken was in the process of excreting.

Given the widespread nature of this disgusting problem, consumers deserve fair notice. It’s time for every package of supermarket chicken to carry a sticker that says, “Warning: May Contain Feces.”

For more information about PCRM’s chicken testing, please visit PCRM.org/ChickenFeces.

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