|data from Consumer Reports|
The law provided the FDA with new powers intended to achieve higher compliance with prevention and risk-based food safety standards, and to better respond to and contain problems when they do occur. The law also gave the FDA tools to hold imported foods to the same standards as domestic foods and directs FDA to build an integrated national food safety system in partnership with state and local authorities. Now as we approach the third anniversary of the law, Consumer Reports has released their latest study on the safety of chicken sold in supermarkets.
Consumer Reports bought chicken breasts from major national grocery chains, big box stores like Costco, and regional markets in 26 states. In all they tested 316 samples of chicken breasts. Of those samples, 252 samples were from conventionally produced chicken, 40 samples that were antibiotic free and 24 samples that were certified organic. The analysis found that chicken from the four largest brands (Perdue, Pilgrim's, Sanderson Farms, Tyson) "contained worrisome amounts of bacteria." Consumer reports states that “almost none of the brands were free of bacteria,” and they found “no significant difference in the average number of types of bacteria” between conventional and organic. Their tests did not find any brands or types of chicken breast that had fewer bacteria than the rest.
Consumer Reports testing found E. coli , enterococcus, campylobacter, klebsiella pneumonia, salmonella and staphylococcus aureus. More than half the chicken breasts were tainted with fecal contaminants that can cause blood and urinary-tract infections. Enterococcus was the most common bacterium found appearing in almost 80% of samples. E. coli, was found in over 65% of the chicken breasts; campylobacter, 43 %; klebsiella pneumoniae, in almost 14%; salmonella in nearly 11% of samples, and staphylococcus aureus, in over 9% of chicken samples.
In addition, almost 50% of the chicken breasts tested positive for at least one multidrug-resistant bacterium, and 11.5% carried two or more types of multidrug-resistant bacteria. In a newly released paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Adian Hollis and co-author Ziana Ahmed state that in the United States 80 % of the antibiotics used in the country are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture for the purpose of increasing food production. "Modern medicine relies on antibiotics to kill off bacterial infections," explains Hollis. "This is incredibly important. Without effective antibiotics, any surgery – even minor ones – will become extremely risky. Cancer therapies, similarly, are dependent on the availability of effective antimicrobials. Ordinary infections will kill otherwise healthy people." Bacteria that can effectively resist antibiotics will thrive, reproduce rapidly and spread in various ways including through the food supply as seen last summer with the Tysons chicken antibiotic resistant and virulent salmonella strain that sent almost 40% of sickened people to the hospital.
Salmonella Enteritidis may be found in the intestinal tracts of livestock, poultry, dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals. This strain is only 1 of about 2,000 kinds of Salmonella bacteria; it is often associated with poultry and shell eggs. Staphylococcus aureus can be carried on human hands, in nasal passages, or in throats. The bacteria are typically found in foods made by hand and then improperly refrigerated, but clearly are found where raw chicken meat is processed into breasts. One of the staphylococcus aureus found in the Consumer Reports testing was a methicillin-resistant staph aureus better known as MRSA the antibiotic resistant hospital infection. Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in humans. Preventing cross-contamination and using proper cooking methods reduces infection by this bacterium.
E. coli is an indicator organism for fecal matter, but does not necessarily mean the product is, in fact, contaminated by feces. E. coli that is present in feathers, or environmental contaminants, like dust, can also contaminate a poultry carcass. Klebsiella is a type of Gram-negative bacteria that can cause different types of healthcare-associated infections, including pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound or surgical site infections, and meningitis. Klebsiella bacteria are normally found in the human intestines (where they do not cause disease). They are also found in human stool (feces) and were found in the chicken tested.
The Consumer Report test results found increased and more widespread contamination than previous tests. Half the bacterium found was drug resistant. This is a symptom that our food supply is becoming less safe. Precautions must be taken when handling and preparing food. The US Department of Agriculture recommends four food safety steps in their Food Safe Families campaign.
- Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate: Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods.
- Cook: Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C).
- Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
Another option that has not been very popular with environmentalists and may have other concerns is irradiation. In 1992, the USDA approved a rule to permit the irradiation of raw, fresh, or frozen packaged poultry to control bacteria on raw poultry that can cause illness when poultry is under-cooked or otherwise mishandled. Irradiation at 1.5 to 3.0 kilo Gray, the smallest, most practical “dose,” would eliminate more than 99 % of Salmonellae organisms on the treated poultry. Right now that is sounding pretty good and you might want to consider that if you are not meticulous in your handling of food in your kitchen. Packages of irradiated chicken are easily recognizable at the store because they must carry the international radura symbol along with the statement, “treated with irradiation” or “treated by irradiation.”