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Fecal contamination is very common in the butchering process of animals. During the process of disemboweling the chickens, the intestines may break or cut accidentally. Fecal material is spilled on and into the chickens. Fecal material is loaded with E. coli and Salmonella in chickens. The chickens are run into ice bath to cool and are allowed to gain 13 percent water weight gain from cooling process. The ice bath contains fecal material from normal slaughter process and exposes all the birds to contamination. Line speeds are exceeding fast and USDA inspectors do not touch birds to examine birds, but use mirrors to see the back side of birds.
Work has been done to reduce the Salmonella in live birds, but you still have to handle the chicken properly at home, and wash hands often, not cross contaminate and sanitize work areas.
Support for irradiation of meat is very poor, but is the only way you can get it 100 percent clean. I have not heard of lab grown chicken yet, but that may come soon.
Cattle are exposed to fecal contamination in some different ways. The crowded beef in waiting pens are exposed to fecal matter on the hides. The dried fecal material on hide will become airborne when the hide is pulled off the animal exposing all the carcasses to fecal dust.
Now before we panic, there is some good news. All of us are full of good E. coli which helps us to digest food. Beef is said to be tastier after being in cooler and the good bacteria growing on it than just after slaughter. Lucky for us that the 0157 strain of E. coli is uncommon. The problem is that in big plants the meat is processed and shipped in many different directions making recall difficult.
Bottom line is to take responsibility for sanitation at home and be open to the idea of irradiation.
Scott Vandell, registered sanitarian
Division of Health Protection, Public Health Services for RiverStone Health of Billings, MT