Consumer Reports Tests for Bacteria in Chicken

Results: 97 percent of the chicken breasts analyzed by CR investigators harbored harmful bacteria

Consumer Reports tested more than 300 raw chicken breasts purchased in 26 states that were produced by several companies — including the big four, small farm and store brands. Almost every chicken analyzed by CR harbored disease-causing bacteria. About half of the samples contained at least one multidrug-resistant bacterium — meaning traditional antibiotics can no longer effectively treat infections caused by the pathogen.

Organic makes no difference

Buying organic chicken that has been raised without antibiotics does not lower your risks of exposure — a fact that truly surprised me. CR investigators found “no significant difference in the average number of types of bacteria between conventional samples and those labeled ‘no antibiotics’ or ‘organic.’”

Protecting yourself from bacterial exposure

Furthermore, bacteria can live on your kitchen surfaces for days and put you at risk long after you have finished your chicken dinner of being one of the 48 million people who are sickened by tainted food every year.

If you are looking for a recommendation about which brand of chicken is the safest option, you won’t find one from Consumer Reports. The CR study concluded that no brand or type of chicken had fewer bacteria than the rest and the only way to protect your family from exposure is to remain vigilant about the manner in which you handle and cook the meat.

Chickens raised with antibiotics — public health implications

Consumer Reports does suggest purchasing no-antibiotic chicken, however, even though your actions may not immediately impact your health. The overuse of antibiotics in farm animals has contributed to the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — a situation that is becoming a public health crisis.

In December, the FDA announced a voluntary program to phase out antibiotic use in farm animals. The voluntary aspect of the rule puts responsibility for implementation in the hands of corporations that may put profits ahead of health. Purchasing only chickens raised without antibiotics supports farmers committed to ending the dangerous antibiotic-resistance cycle. (For more fox-minding-the-chicken-coop rules, read about the USDA’s proposed rule to increase maximum poultry slaughter line speed and to reassign USDA inspectors’ duties to the corporations’ employees).

The high costs of cheap chicken

Read the full results of the CR investigation in “The high costs of cheap chicken” published in the February 2014 issue of Consumer Reports. The article also contains a helpful chicken label decoder that explains what cage-free, free-range, natural, pasture-raised and certified humane mean. These fell-good labels sell more chicken, but are misleading to the conscientious consumer.

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