Though tangential to this blog's focus, I'm continuing the food safety series today. Here's another appetizing article from the Washington Post that I read ... while eating chicken. Of course. The article carried the results of the latest Consumer Reports' food safety study. This time, the subject was chicken. And the results weren't that encouraging.
The Post reports that Consumer Reports had 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. Three top brands were tested -- Foster Farms, Perdue and Tyson -- as well as 30 non-organic store brands, nine organic store brands and nine organic name brands. These were whole broilers, two-thirds of which harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of food-borne disease.
The message is clear: Consumers still can't let down their guard. They must cook chicken to at least 165 degrees and prevent raw chicken or its juices from touching any other food.
Each year, salmonella and campylobacter from chicken and other food sources infect 3.4 million Americans, send 25,500 to hospitals and kill about 500, according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
I had no idea that more than 3 million Americans are infected each year from these pathogens! The study was just a snapshot in time, but among the results were these findings:
Among the cleanest overall were organic "air-chilled" broilers (a process in which carcasses are refrigerated and may be misted, rather than dunked in cold chlorinated water). About 60 percent were free of the two pathogens. Perdue was found to be the cleanest of the brand-name chickens: 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 both pathogens. Store-brand organic chickens had no salmonella at all, but only 43 percent of those birds were also free of campylobacter.
I used to only look for the best prices for poultry, buying organic whenever I could afford it, but now I have a reason to also be brand-specific.
If you are unsure of how to handle raw chicken safety, there are a number of best practices that will help minimize contamination, including how to protect your groceries from leaking chicken juices, what temperature chicken needs to reach, how to thaw chicken, and what to do with leftovers--all of which are outlined in the Post's article.