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Study Suggests Less Salmonella in Organic Chicken

The prevalence of fecal Salmonella and anti-microbial Salmonella is lower in certified-organic broiler chickens than in chickens that are conventionally raised, according to a study recently published in the journal Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. 

The study was conducted by scientists at the University of Georgia in collaboration with scientists at Ohio State University and North Carolina State University. The authors point out in the introduction that:

[a]ccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the incidence of Salmonella (i.e., 16.2 cases per 100,000 population/year) was the least improved of all foodborne pathogens in terms of achieving national health objective targets for Healthy People 2010. Poultry remains an important vehicle of Salmonella transmission to humans, occurring mainly via contaminated meat.

That statistic, coupled with the fact that poultry is the fastest growing meat product within the U.S. organic market, prompted scientists to compare the incidence of Salmonella in organic and conventional farming operations. The authors noted that “in consumers’ minds, organic foods appear to be a safer alternative to conventional poultry.” In performing this study, they wanted to determine whether that perception had any scientific basis.

Samples for the study were collected from one poultry company in North Carolina that maintains both USDA-certified organic and conventional broiler farms. In total, the team collected 700 samples (300 organic and 400 conventional), including floor droppings, feed samples, and drinking water. After analyzing the samples, scientists found that:

[t]he overall prevalence of Salmonella across all farms, sample types, and age group was 4.3% (13/300) in organic broiler farms compared to 28.8% (115/400) in conventional broiler farms.

The study also revealed significant findings regarding anti-microbial resistant Salmonella. The authors reported:

The overall prevalence of individual and multidrug anti-microbial resistance was higher in Salmonella isolates from conventional broiler farms than in those from organic broiler farms. Multidrug resistance was more frequent in Salmonella isolates from conventional broiler farms (55.2%) compared with organic farms (41.6%).


Thirty-six percent of conventional and 25 percent of organic Salmonella samples were found to be resistant to streptomycin. No organic samples and 39.7 percent of conventional samples had multidrug resistance to six antimicrobial agents: ampicillin-streptomycin-amoxicillin/clavulanic acid-cephalothin-ceftiofur-cefoxitin.

The study’s authors concluded by stating the need for further study of the presence of Salmonella in multiple large-scale certified-organic farming operations; however, the study provides useful information for all consumers concerned about food safety.

© Food Safety News
  • cmitchell

    The study is linked in the first paragraph of the article. Unfortunately, you must subscribe in order to have access to it. Feel free to contact Dr. Walid Q. Alali at the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia for any questions you may have. His email address is walali@uga.edu.

  • Doc Mudd

    From the study abstract: “Salmonella prevalences in fecal samples were 5.6% (10/180) and 38.8% (93/240) from organic and conventional farms, respectively. From feed, 5.0% (3/60) and 27.5% (22/80) of the samples were positive for Salmonella from organic and conventional farms, respectively. None of the water samples were positive for Salmonella.”
    Over 1/4 of feed samples delivered to conventional farms were salmonella positive, wow! Some reckless feed supplier is really taking these chicken farmers to the cleaners.
    Interesting (and not surprising) that fecal results mirror feed results so closely.
    Suggests that contaminated feed can be a potent source of salmonella in these operations when no one’s ‘watching the hen house’ and illustrates why HACCP, when applied diligently can be preventative in situations like this.
    Interesting little field survey. Thanks for passing this citation along.

  • ecofoodologist

    I look forward to reading this paper. Most interesting to me is the lack of recognition that smaller farms provide useful data (ref. last paragraph). True, is is difficult to find exact treatment replications at small farms, but are statistics supplanting actual safety? Where are the peer reviewed studies on preventing disease by not requiring chickens to wading in their own feces all day. Studying small farms may not serve the interest of the BigAg producers, but why do they get to choose the definition of “organic” production. Small farms provide regional economic benefits, often at lower environmental cost. They should not have to compete at the frankinclucker price point. ef

  • Claire Mitchell

    The study is linked in the first paragraph of the article. Unfortunately, you must subscribe in order to have access to it. Feel free to contact Dr. Walid Q. Alali at the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia for any questions you may have. His email address is walali@uga.edu.