Consumer Reports on Chicken

Update: The FSIS salmonella testing results are available here.

The new Consumer Reports (Jan. 2010) has a report on the safety of chicken (pay only, no link).

Campylobacter was in 62 percent of the chickens, salmonella was in 14 percent, and both bacteria were in 9 percent. Only 34 percent of the birds were clear of both pathogens. [snip] Among the cleanest were air-chilled broilers. About 40 percent harbored one or both pathogens.

That’s shocking. In other words, 66 percent of the chickens in the store are contaminated with deadly bacteria. The answer is not more antibiotics,

store-brand organic chicken had no salmonella at all (although) 57 percent of those birds harbored campylobacter.

The answer, according to Consumer Reports, is proper procedures and disinfectant of equipment in chicken farms, slaughterhouses, and processors. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) monitors the compliance of chicken companies with their infection control plans. According to Consumer Reports, the USDA has begun posting this data online, though it isn’t archived. However, I could not find it. The closest I came was a press release from Jan. 2008. The release says:

On March 28, 2008, FSIS will post on its Web site completed verification sample set results from establishments in Category 2 or Category 3 beginning with results from young chicken slaughter establishments (from FSIS Seeks Comments on Salmonella Sampling Programs and Activities)

I intend to follow-up on this with Consumer Reports and the FSIS.

Of course, vegans would say that the solution is to stop eating chickens, that the cruelty of killing them is not worth the meal. I am struggling with that idea right now, but I think that protein is more important to human diets than they acknowledge.

In other food meat safety news, I did find where the FSIS posts their information on Quarterly Enforcement Reports (tables are PDF) and Residue Violators (PDF) — which companies had meat with excessive chemical residues. I was disappointed in the former as details are not provided, though company names are, and in the latter because almost all the data was a year old in the Nov. 2009 report.

I would love to know what percentage of meat processors are listed in these reports, but I have no idea how many meat processors there are in total in this country. I hope, probably optimistically, that it is a low percentage.

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