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Chicken survey finds two-thirds harbour salmonella, campylobacter

By Guy Montague-Jones , 01-Dec-2009

A consumer survey has found salmonella and/or campylobacter in about two-thirds of chickens tested in the US.

Consumer Reports assessed 382 chickens from 100 stores in its regular survey of chicken safety and found campylobacter in 62 per cent, salmonella in 14 per cent, and both bacteria in 14 per cent.

A total of 34 per cent of birds were clean of both pathogens, which is double the figure found in 2007, but Consumer Reports did not find this cause for celebration.

Modest improvement

The consumer watchdog called it a “modest improvement” and said the number of clean birds was still far smaller than the 51 per cent identified in 2003. “The numbers are still far too high, especially for campylobacter,” said Consumer Reports.

To support the case it quoted figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicating that salmonella and campylobacter from food sources infect 3.4m Americans a year, resulting in 25,500 hospital cases, and 500 deaths.

Among the 382 chickens tested in the latest report, air chilled birds were the cleanest, with 40 per cent carrying pathogens. Air chilling is a poultry processing technique, whereby birds are hung by shackles and moved through coolers with rapidly moving air, rather than being dunked in cold chlorinated water.

For the first time, Consumer Reports found one major brand, Perdue’s, which fared significantly better than others. It said 56 per cent of the chickens were free of salmonella and campylobacter. This compared with 20 per cent in the two poorest performing brands, Tyson and Foster Farms.

Industry response

Responding to the survey, the National Chicken Council, which represents chicken producers and processors, insisted that chicken is safe. It said raw chicken may have some microorganisms present, but that these are destroyed by the heat of normal cooking.

The Council also questioned the findings of the report. It said: “A much more comprehensive survey by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) found salmonella and campylobacter on fewer raw chickens than Consumer Reports.

“More important is the fact that USDA found that the levels of microorganisms present are usually very low. Consumer Reports failed to perform this analysis.

“The USDA survey also showed that poultry processing greatly improves the microbiological profile of raw chickens.”

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