Two-thirds of fresh broiler chicken purchased in 22 states harbored Salmonella and/or Campylobacter, according a report released by Consumer Reports yesterday.
The study also found that most of the bacteria sampled from the raw chicken was resistant to at least one antibiotic, which can make treating foodborne illness more difficult.
Consumer Reports found that contamination was slightly lower than in 2007, when the group found 8 in 10 chickens had harmful bacteria, but emphasized that “the numbers are still far too high.”
The independent lab that conducted the study, which included 382 chickens purchased from over 100 supermarkets–including gourmet and natural food stores–found that 62 percent of chickens were contaminated by Campylobacter, 14 percent had Salmonella, and 9 percent had both.
Consumer Reports found that the cleanest chickens were organic “air-chilled” broilers, of these birds, 60 percent were free of the two disease-causing pathogens.
“Consumers still need to be very careful in handling chicken, which is routinely contaminated with disease-causing bacteria,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
“Our tests show that Campylobacter is widespread in chicken, even in brands that control for Salmonella…this is still a very dirty industry that needs better practices and tighter government oversight,” added Rangan.
The National Chicken Council (NCC), which represents the companies that produce and process 95 percent of all chicken in the U.S., responded to the study by encouraging consumers to handle and cook poultry properly.
“Chicken is safe. Like all fresh foods, raw chicken may have some microorganisms present, but these are destroyed by the heat of normal cooking,” said NCC in a statement.
The NCC also called Consumer Reports’ analysis faulty, pointing to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study that found contamination to be very low. “The USDA also showed that poultry processing greatly improves the microbiological profile of raw chickens. In fact, the industry does an excellent job in providing safe, wholesome food to American consumers.”
Shortly after the NCC released a statement, Consumer Reports responded to the comments on its safety blog.
“True about the cooking, but it is hard to think of another category of food where your chances are better than 50-50 of encountering a contaminated product. If a consumer slips up and raw chicken juices drip onto salad greens in the refrigerator, or a cook uses a contaminated chicken knife on a salad tomato, the consequences could be severe,” read the blog post, which urged the USDA to improve its standards for poultry production.