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F.ood & H.ealth : B.iological A.gents Last Updated: Dec 4th, 2006 - 23:15:55

Food pathogens found in 83% of chickens
By Ben Wasserman -
Dec 4, 2006, 23:13

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The majority of chickens consumers use may be contaminated with food pathogens that potentially cause food poisoning, according to a new study by Consumer Reports, USA Today reported today.

According to the report, 83 percent of 525 chickens’ samples purchased from supermarkets, bulk retailers, gourmet shops and natural food stores in 23 states were found contaminated with either campylobacter or salmonella or both.

Richard Raymond of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was cited by USA Today as saying that the number of samples is very small, considering that 9 billion chickens are slaughtered each year. Richard Lobb of the National Chicken Council was cited as saying that the figures were greatly exaggerated.

The study found that the rate of salmonella contamination was 15 percent, which is comparable to what the USDA found, 16.3 percent in 2005, USA Today cited Raymond as saying.

But according to the Consumer Reports’ study, the rate of contamination with campylobacter was 81 percent, up from 42 percent in 2003. No government data are available for comparison. But the USDA and National Chicken Council estimated that the contamination rate was 26 percent in 2005 and 60 percent in chicken breasts in 2004, according to a study by the Food and Drug Administration.

According to USA Toady, the test methods may be different, leading to different results. The Consumer Reports recognized a sample with 13 bacteria as contaminated while the USDA counted a sample as contaminated only if 4,000 or more bacteria were present in the cultured sample.

Food poisoning is common, but rarely results in deaths. According to the CDC, cited by USA Today, Campylobacter and Salmonella from all sources sicken more than 3.4 million people each year in the US and kill about 700.

In addition to the presence of food pathogens in chickens, use of antibiotics in chickens has also raised concerns. An early study found that consumers who eat chicken and workers who handle chickens in a plant environment were found at a higher risk of hosting drug resistant bacteria compared to those who did not eat or handle chickens.

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