Saturday, March 26, 2011


While I was cooking breakfast and waiting for houseguests to get up this morning, I decided to check on how the U.S. was doing in terms of reducing Salmonella bacteria in raw meat and poultry. This sudden urge was motivated less by obsession with Salmonella bacteria at 5am in the morning than by the fact that the latest report on the topic from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just happened to pop up in my morning's E-mail.

A little background: the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service has been regularly testing for Salmonella bacteria in raw meat and poultry (carcasses and raw ground meat and poultry products) since 1997 (for large establishments) and 1998 for smaller ones. This regular testing for Salmonella is operating alongside one for E.coli bacteria and another for general fecal contamination of raw meat and poultry. So, you could say it is just one indicator of overall meat and poultry contamination in the U.S. But it is still an important one: Salmonella bacteria are fairly common in all our foods, and quite deadly, especially to children and older adults.

I won't go into details on the various categories and procedures used, but here are a few interesting 2010 facts about chicken that I dug up from the USDA/FSIS data (and please don't think that I am prejudiced against either chicken or small producers):

• Raw ground chicken is more likely to carry Salmonella than raw ground beef.
• Since the Jan.-March 2009 quarter to Oct.-Dec. 2010 quarter, the incidence of Salmonella in ground chicken has risen dramatically (from 13.1% to 22.8%).
• It has risen in ground beef too, but is much, much lower than in ground chicken (1.7% to 2.8% for those same periods. Compare this to the above).
• Broilers (young chicken) carcasses have also shown a big increase and the latest findings have shown that almost a tenth are contaminated with Salmonella.
• Ground turkey isn't as bad as ground chicken in terms of Salmonella (the latest findings show 9% to be contaminated, compared to 22.8% in ground chicken).
• Very small establishments producing ground chicken are twice as likely to have contaminated ground chicken as are large ones (45.5% compared to 22.6%). It is even worse in the case of broilers (38.3% compared to 3.7%).

Cook your chicken well and be careful handling it. We can't just rely on the industry and government to keep our food safe.


No comments: