Think the subject of contaminated chicken had been done to death? Think again. Find out just how foul eating fowl can be.
These days, read any description of how chickens go from downy hatchlings to lunch salads and roasted dinner entrees and you'd swear that someone had slipped you the script for an episode of the X Files or the latest Stephen King thriller, "Poultrygeist." All the ingredients for a devilish tale are there: epidemics of Salmonella stalking unsuspecting consumers; slaughterhouse workers toiling in ghoulish conditions; stomach-wrenching mountains of manure and chicken carcasses; and brutally overcrowded factory farms. Trouble is, none of this is fictional.
Waiter, there's Salmonella in my soup
The average North American eats more than 50 pounds of chicken per year, roughly double the amount consumed just 20 years ago. In that time the portrayal of chicken as low-fat and wholesome lured consumers away from a steady diet of beef, as did retail prices trimmed by a revolution in slaughterhouse technology. Though it now costs only about a third of what it did two decades ago, any way you slice it, chicken is no bargain.
Each year in the US alone, contaminated chicken kills at least 1,000 people and sickens between 6.5 and 80 million others. These astronomical figures could actually underrepresent the extent of the problem, given that food-related illness is difficult to identify and often goes unreported.
Handling chicken has gotten so precarious (Time magazine calls raw chicken "one of the most dangerous items in the American home") even government officials recommend treating poultry as if it were laden with lethal microbes. A recent report summarizing 55 different studies found that approximately 30 percent of chicken is contaminated with Salmonella and 62 percent with its cousin, Campylobacter. These two pathogens are responsible for 80 percent of the illnesses and 75 percent of the deaths associated with meat consumption, says the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the government agency responsible for ensuring meat safety.
It's no surprise really that chicken is decidedly foul. Factory farms--where more than 90 percent of US chickens and eggs are raised--are fertile breeding grounds for disease, and many commercial livestock feeds are tainted with Salmonella. Additionally, today's slaughterhouses do an excellent job of dispersing pathogens from bird to bird. This is especially true in the chilling tanks, communal rinses for chicken carcasses that are filled with water that routinely becomes a septic brew known in the industry as "fecal soup." According to former USDA microbiologist Gerald Kuester, the product that emerges from these tanks and ends up on supermarket shelves, "is no different than if you stick it in the toilet and ate it."
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Written by: Steve Lustgarden with Debra Holton, Earth Save International
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