I am not one to worry much about food-borne illness. I eat sashimi, beef tartare, and salad dressing containing raw egg, and I like my pork chops with a touch of pink in the center. However, the following information stopped me dead in my tracks:
Consumer Reports latest tests, released today, of 382 whole chickens bought from more than 100 stores in 22 states, found that two-thirds harbor disease-causing bacteria—salmonella, campylobacter or both.
Over 80% of Tyson and Foster Farms chickens tested harbored salmonella, campylobacter, or both. Organic air-chilled chickens were significantly cleaner, especially with regards to salmonella, but over half of the organic tested birds harbored campylobacter. Furthermore, the report found that a high percentage of these bacteria–even those on organic birds–were resistant to antibiotics.
It is unsurprising that more poultry are infected with campylobacter than salmonella for the simple reason that the USDA has no established baseline level of campylobacter. The USDA has generally found lower levels of salmonella contamination than those reported by Consumer Reports, perhaps because the USDA tests birds in the slaughterhouse rather than at the store and because slaughterhouses are generally given advance warning that the USDA is coming.
In the absence of better government food safety regulations, it is so important to be careful when buying and eating food. Most of these microorganisms will be destroyed with proper cooking methods, but when you’re facing a 50-50 risk that the bird you are cooking harbors a harmful microorganism, food safety precautions are vital. Never eat undercooked poultry and be especially wary not to allow any cross contamination through your hands, counters, cutting boards or knives. If something touches raw poultry, it needs to be thoroughly washed before it touches anything else.
I do not usually buy organic poultry. It is much more expensive and, in my opinion, not any better than conventional poultry in terms of taste or the way that the animals are treated. This data is causing me to rethink my buying habits. I really had no idea that there was any difference with regards to food safety issues. I definitely have things to think about. Thanks to Blueberry Mom for the tip.