“Poisoned” Fact or Fiction

"Poisoned” Fact or Fiction 

“Poisoned,” a Netflix film about American food production, does not accurately depict the facts about food safety in raising and processing chickens for food in the United States. It uses a handful of known critics of our food system, lawyers, and authors to portray an inaccurate and exaggerated picture of the importance of food safety to chicken producers.  

The National Chicken Council would like to address several of the claims raised in the film. 

Claim: Breeding companies operate in secrecy. It’s hard to tell what practices they’re using to keep those eggs from spreading disease.  

Response: Nothing could be further from the truth. Primary breeding facilities are managed under the strictest biosecurity precautions to reduce the risk of introduction or spread of an infectious disease at breeding farms and hatcheries. Breeding companies select for over 50 different qualities, with over half of those traits being related to the health and welfare of chickens, which has a direct correlation to food safety.  

Claim: The government has no jurisdiction on the chicken farm, it doesn’t monitor anything there and this poses a food safety risk.  

Response: Food safety management controls are implemented at each stage – including on the farm. Yes, most of USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) authority is at the processing plant, where they inspect every product for safety, wholesomeness and correct labeling before it can be packaged and shipped. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) regularly monitors farms for avian diseases.  

The reality is that chicken producers already implement numerous strategies on the farm to reduce Salmonella in birds coming into processing plants. Robust Salmonella control strategies are widely implemented across the industry to include programs in the hatchery, feed mill, breeder farm, and broiler farm. These programs include: 

  • Biosecurity programs 
  • Equipment sanitation 
  • Feed treatment 
  • Litter treatment 
  • Water sanitation programs 
  • Feeding of prebiotics and probiotics 
  • Rodent/insect control 
  • Cleanout programs 
  • Vaccinations 

Claim: There is only one USDA inspector at the end of the processing line to inspect every chicken.  

Response: The one anonymous USDA inspector portrayed in the film paints an inaccurate and exaggerated portrayal of today’s modern poultry inspection system.  

While there is one USDA inspector stationed along with several plant employees on what is known as the “evisceration line,” there are roaming inspectors that keep constant watch of the process and have the authority to slow or stop the evisceration line if any issues arise. No matter the speed of the processing line, you cannot see Salmonella which is why poultry inspection has been modernized many times since 1906, unlike what the film tries to portray.  

Today, other USDA inspectors and company employees throughout the plant utilize modern, science-based and data-driven methods for improving food safety, such as microbiological testing, analyzation of data and trends, demonstration of process control and increased use of technology and automation. The number of these types of inspections has actually doubled over the past two decades.  

Claim: Declaring Salmonella an adulterant in raw chicken will make it disappear. 

Response: Passing a law or regulation to fight bacteria will not magically make it go away. What it would do is cause millions of pounds of safe-to-eat if properly prepared chicken to be sent to landfills rather than dinner tables – an unconscionable thought given how much food insecurity there is.  

What will make Salmonella disappear is science, research, and breaking the chain of Salmonella at every stage of production from the breeder farm to the processing plant.  

When handled properly and cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (as measured with a meat thermometer), chicken is safe to eat 100 percent of the time. 

Chicken processing plants mitigate the risk of Salmonella through:   

  • Adherence to a company’s written food safety plans, known as Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans.
  • Organic rinses that cleanse the chicken, reducing any potential foodborne pathogens or bacteria.
  • Keeping the meat at the proper cool temperature.
  • Using metal detectors and X-rays to make sure that no foreign object makes its way into a product or package. 
  • Microbiological tests are conducted on the products by both the companies and federal laboratories to help ensure that food safety systems are working properly and that each and every final product meets USDA standards for safety and wholesomeness. 
  • Expanded and more sensitive detection technologies for pathogens.
  • Funding ongoing research and focus devoted to on-farm and in-plant interventions to control pathogens.
  • Expanded use of robotics, imaging systems, sensors, etc. 

Data shows that these processes are working. Salmonella levels on chicken and chicken products are at an all-time low. 97% of processing plants are meeting the government standard for Salmonella on whole chickens, as are 93% for chicken parts. 

We pledge to continue to do our part – the industry will remain committed to investing significant resources – at the hatchery, feed mill, farm, and processing plant – to further enhance the safety profile of chicken products.  

Claim: When you bring raw poultry into your kitchen, you are introducing into your household a biohazard, and you should handle it accordingly.  

Response: While the prevalence of Salmonella has been greatly reduced and the industry is continually working to reduce its prevalence, raw chicken—like many other types of food—is not sterile and must be properly handled and cooked. Click here for safe handling and cooking steps.  

Claim: You can go to Europe and buy packages of meat that are labeled “pathogen-free.” 

Comparing U.S. and European production systems is like comparing apples and oranges. The United States produces more than twice the amount of chicken annually than the entire European Union combined, at a fraction of the price. But the reality is that raw chicken will never be 100% sterile. Whether you’re in Paris or Pittsburgh, you still need to handle raw chicken properly and cook it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as measured with a meat thermometer. Moreover, the U.S. industry and government target all Salmonella while in the E.U. they only focus on certain serotypes. Again – apples and oranges. 

Claim: The chicken industry hasn’t held up to their end of the bargain. 

Response: U.S. chicken producers rely upon the best science, microbiology, and technology to reduce food-borne pathogens. The industry spends tens of millions of dollars every year in the name of food-safety research that has directly and significantly decreased the foodborne pathogens present in chicken over the last several years. 97% of chicken processing plants are meeting the government standard for Salmonella on whole chickens as are 93% for chicken parts. 

Claim: The chicken industry puts profits ahead of product safety.  

Response: Without a safe product, there is no business, much less a profit. Chicken producers treat food safety as the number one priority. Producing unsafe chicken is not a very good business model.  

Claim: The regulation of animal waste is minimal. We have laws on the books, but they’re not enforced.  

Response: First, chicken manure is not waste. It is a valuable commodity that is recycled and used as an organic fertilizer for crops and plants. It is applied as an alternative to synthetic fertilizers and contains essential crop nutrients, returns organic matter to the soil, and helps crops weather droughts. 

 Chicken production has a significantly reduced environmental footprint compared with the rest of the U.S. animal agriculture industry. We have made meaningful strides in minimizing environmental impact with the help of technological advancements and improved animal husbandry practices. 

 Chicken farms are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They are required by law to adopt and adhere to state nutrient management plans while states monitor the transportation and relocation of poultry litter

Bottom line on “Poisoned” documentary: Americans eat about 150 million servings of chicken every day, and virtually all of them are eaten safely. Consumers should feel confident in the safety of our chicken supply, and chicken producers are working every day to make it even safer.

Learn More About the National Chicken Council

Learn More About the National Chicken Council