This is not a month to be fond of chicken. Via CIDRAP, a long, worrying report by Robert Roos: Consumer Reports finds bacteria common on chicken breasts. Excerpt:
A Consumer Reports study of raw chicken breast samples from around the country found that most of them had some bacterial contamination and a good many had pathogenic varieties such as Campylobacter or Salmonella, the magazine reported yesterday.
Enterococcus species and Escherichia coli—which are part of the normal bacteria population in the human gut but may also indicate fecal contamination—were found on most of the 316 samples tested, the magazine said. Campylobacter and Salmonella were found on 43% and 10.8% of the samples, respectively.
In addition, almost half of the samples (49.7%) tested positive for at least one type of multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacteria (resistant to three or more antibiotics), Consumer Reports said.
The National Chicken Council countered in a statement today that the sample was extremely small and that Salmonella in chicken has decreased greatly in the past 5 years, among other points. And a food safety expert noted that the results for Salmonella and Campylobacter demonstrate recent progress.
Consumer Reports said it collected chicken breast samples from national grocery chains, big-box stores, and regional markets in 26 states. The samples included 252 from conventionally produced chickens and 64 from producers that use no antibiotics. Among the latter were 24 samples labeled organic.
The samples were tested for Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus aureus, which are common causes of foodborne disease. Also, they were tested for Enterococcus, E coli, and Klebsiella pneumoniae, the latter being a microbe that normally lives in the human stomach but can also cause pneumonia, the report said.
Enterococcus species were the most common bacteria, found in 79.8% of samples, the report said. E coli (only a few strains of which are pathogenic) was found in 65.2%, Campylobacter in 43%, K pneumoniae in 13.6%, Salmonella in 10.8%, and S aureus in 9.2%.
The analysis also showed that 11.5% of the samples carried two or more types of MDR bacteria, with 49.7%, as mentioned, having at least one MDR variety.
The report says that all of the four major brands of chicken—Perdue, Pilgrim's, Sanderson farms, and Tyson—contained "worrisome amounts of bacteria," and that included samples labeled "no antibiotics" or "organic." Also, "We found no significant difference in the average number of types of bacteria between conventional samples and those labeled 'no antibiotics' or 'organic.' "