Salmonella, Campylobacter bacteria persist in supermarket chickens

Consumer Reports magazine, in their January 2010 featured article reports that the most contaminated big brands are Tyson and Foster Farms, where 80% tested positive for one or both bacteria!  Overall the cleanest are the “air-chilled” brands.

Consumer Reports has been measuring contamination in store-bought chickens since 1988.  In this latest round, an outside lab tested 382 chickens bought from more than 100 supermarkets, natural food stores, and mass merchandisers in twenty-two states.  They tested top brands such as Tyson, Foster Farms, and Perdue as well as 30 other non-organic store brands, and 9 organic brands.  Of the 9 organic brands, 5 were “air-chilled.” (A process that happens in the slaughterhouse where the newly killed chickens are refrigerated, maybe misted, rather than kept in cold chlorinated water.)

Some of the findings:

  • 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
  • Overall cleanest were the “air-chilled” brands.  Only around 40% had one or both pathogens, which still sucks
  • One of these air-chilled brands that did well was Bell & Evans

Why is this study important? Because each year, Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria from chicken and other foods infect 3.4 million Americans, send 25500 to hospitals, and kill about 500!  Many never get seen by health professionals.

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.

Check out our companion article: How to avoid harmful bacteria from chicken.

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