Consumer Reports has been measuring contamination in store-bought chickens since 1998. The recent test shows a small improvement since January 2007, when the consumer magazine found these pathogens in 8 of 10 broilers, but the numbers are still extremely high.
In the Consumer Report study, which will be out in print in its January 2010 issue, it was found that most disease-causing bacteria sampled from the contaminated chicken were resistant to at least one antibiotic, potentially making any resulting illness more difficult to treat.
"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, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "Our tests show that campylobacter is widespread in chicken, even in brands that control for salmonella.
According to the Consumer Reports testing, an outside lab test 382 chickens bought last spring from more than 100 supermarkets, gourmet- and natural-food stores, and mass merchandisers in 22 states. Among the findings:
*Campylobacter was in 62 percent of the chickens, salmonella was in 14percent, and both bacteria were in 9 percent. Only 34 percent of the birds were clear of both pathogens. That's double the percentage of clean birds Consumer Reports found in its 2007 report but far less
than the 51 percent in the 2003 report.
*Perdue was found to be the cleanest of the brand-name chicken: 56
percent were free of both pathogens. This is the first time since
Consumer Reports began testing chicken that one major brand has fared
significantly better than others across the board.
*Tyson and Foster Farms chickens were found to be the most contaminated; less than 20 percent were free of either pathogens.
*Store-brand organic chickens had no salmonella at all, but only 43
percent of those birds were also free of campylobacter.
*Among all brands and types of broilers tested, 68 percent of the
salmonella and 60 percent of the campylobacter organisms analyzed
showed resistance to one ore more antibiotics.
Each year, salmonella and campylobacter from chicken and other food sources infect at least 3.4 million Americans, send 25,500 to hospitals, and kill about 500, according to estimates by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While both salmonella and campylobacter are known to cause intestinal distress, campylobacter can lead to meningitis, arthritis, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a severe neurological condition.
Here are some tips for making sure chicken is safe to eat:
*Place chicken in a plastic bag like those in the produce department to keep juices from leaking when shopping.
*If you'll cook the chicken within a couple of days, store it at 40
degrees F or below. Otherwise, freeze it.
*Thaw frozen chicken in a refrigerator, inside its packaging and on a
plate, or on a plate in a microwave oven. Never thaw it on a counter.
*Cook chicken to at least 165 degrees F. Even if it's no longer pink,
it can still harbor bacteria, so use a meat thermometer.
*Don't return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw.
A great resource for food safety is www.BuySafeEatWell.org
Written by Cheryl Phillips
sources: Consumer reports, buysafeeatwell.org, USDA