Fresh chicken is a healthful and natural food that is safe to eat when handled and prepared according to simple, common-sense procedures printed on the wrapping of every package of fresh poultry and meat sold in the United States. Consumer Reports says what every cook already knows, that fresh poultry may carry naturally occurring bacteria and should be properly handled and cooked. The Consumer Reports story, as far as we know, contains nothing new and should not be cause for alarm to anyone.
The story contains some statements that are not in line with known facts. For example, the prevalence of Salmonella and Campylobacter on raw chicken is apparently greatly exaggerated. Official government testing shows that Salmonella can be found, usually at very low levels, on about 12 percent of chickens processed nationwide. This data can be found on the Web site of the USDA Food Safety & Inspection Service at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Science/Q3_2006_Salmonella_Testing/index.asp .
As far as Campylobacter is concerned, a large-scale study by Dr. Norman Stern, an expert with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, showed that only 26 percent of the chickens sampled had any detectable level of Campylobacter. Dr. Stern’s study took place over 13 months, in 13 poultry complexes, and included 4,200 samples, and is thus far more definitive than a much smaller sample. This study was published in the Journal of Food Protection earlier this year.
Thus, reputable scientific studies show that Salmonella and Campylobacter are present on raw chickens to a far lesser degree than indicated by Consumer Reports.
As for the suggestion that chicken was responsible for a person’s illness with Guillain-Barre syndrome, the magazine apparently gives no clinical proof that this was the source of the person’s illness. Guillain-Barre syndrome is also very rare.
As for the suggestion that bacteria that may be found on raw chicken are becoming more resistant to antibiotics, the fact is that Campylobacter is notoriously resistant to some antibiotics regardless of whether they are used in chicken or not. We are not aware of any actual human cases in which antibiotics have failed to work because of any usage in live chickens. The use of antibiotics in live chickens has declined sharply in recent years.