Thursday, April 12, 2012

NY Times reports E. coli on Chicken...oh noooooo

What would we do without the occasional ‘shocking’ story about raw meat containing bacteria, in this case, a study that E. coli was found on chicken? Yes, raw meat, including chicken, can and will have E. coli associated with it, as well as some pathogens such as Salmonella and Campylobacter. This will occur whether it is conventionally processed, organic, or even farm raised. Those processing chicken put in steps to help reduce the level of bacteria, but it is nearly impossible to eliminate all bacteria on a raw product (one that you would still want to buy). I don’t want a farmer or processor treating my chicken to a point that eliminates all of the bacteria, and neither should you. It would not be a chicken that you would want to buy.  

Have we become such germaphobes that we cannot longer tolerate the thought that E. coli might be on a raw chicken or raw beef. What, you don’t think that soon after you put on your underwear that you have a few E.coli on them? Or on our hands after we use the restroom? And what do we do, we wash them. And for raw meat and poultry products…..we cook them (and keep our kitchen counter clean as well).

A few problems with this study, one pointed out by our own Dr. Cutter in the NY Times article below. (You can link to the published report

They constantly refer to the E. coli contamination as feces. Although linked, these are two different images. Yes, there may be a few E.coli in your underwear, or even on your hands after you use the restroom, but would you call it feces? Have you ever seen feces on a raw chicken breast? Does your chicken breast smell like poop? E. coli is of fecal origin, and it can cross contaminate onto food and surfaces such as your hands, but to what degree are feces particles present…microscopic at best. And if that thought still concerns you, then you better live in a bubble with your colon direct linked to the sewer pipe.

Another issue is that the study does not look at actual levels of E. coli per bird, just the absence or presence. Therefore, it is possible that there may only be an extremely low level of E.coli there…and based upon real scientific studies, we know that this is the case. So we start with a bird where there are billioins and billions of E. coli present in the intestine, the bird is eviscerated, cleaned, and packaged. Now, there only has be a few organisms present for the test to show a positive. I am surprised the number isn’t even higher….but that would be no more concerning.

Is it surprising that the person who conducted the study is a vegan? So what is the agenda? I have no problems with those people who choose not to eat meat. But please don’t push that agenda onto others through the use of ill designed studies.

The real take away…cook your food….and use a thermometer to verify.

48% of Chicken in Small Sample Has E. Coli
NY Times Published: April 11, 2012

A recent test of packaged raw chicken products bought at grocery stores across the country found that roughly half of them were contaminated with the bacteria E. coli.

E. coli, which the study said was an indicator of fecal contamination, was found in 48 percent of 120 chicken products bought in 10 major cities by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit group that advocates a vegetarian diet among other things. The study results were released Wednesday.

“Most consumers do not realize that feces are in the chicken products they purchase,” said Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of the group. “Food labels discuss contamination as if it is simply the presence of bacteria, but people need to know that it means much more than that.”

Food safety specialists said the findings were a tempest in a chicken coop, particularly because the test was so small and the E. coli found was not a kind that threatened public health. 

“What’s surprising to me is that they didn’t find more,” said Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “Poop gets into your food, and not just into meat — produce is grown in soil fertilized with manure, and there’s E. coli in that, too.” 

Dr. Doyle emphasized that the findings by the nonprofit group were different from the recent uproar over “pink slime,” the inexpensive filler containing ammonia gas or citric acid that is often added to ground beef products to kill E. coli and other bacteria. “That’s an additive,” he said. 

Eight billion to nine billion chickens annually are processed for food in the United States, and the Department of Agriculture requires processors to do an E. coli test on one of every 22,000 birds slaughtered, or, for small producers, at least one a week. 

The National Chicken Council, a trade group representing chicken producers, said the Physicians Committee’s test was “disingenuous,” given that it identified only 57 questionable samples out of about 42 million pounds of ready-to-cook chicken products in grocery stores every day. 

“These findings, not a ‘peer-reviewed’ study, are another misleading attempt by a pseudo-medical group to scare consumers in hopes of advancing their goal of a vegan society,” said Dr. Ashley Peterson, vice president of science and technology at the National Chicken Council. 

Dr. Peterson said chicken processing plants “strictly” abide by the Department of Agriculture’s zero tolerance for visible fecal matter and use many measures to reduce bacteria levels throughout processing. “When a product moves through the plant, bacteria levels are reduced many hundreds of times to a fraction of what was naturally on the bird when it arrived,” she said. 

Dirk Fillpot, of the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture, said the study’s findings were not supported by any science or facts. “It assumes that the presence of generic E. coli could only come from contact with feces, when that is simply not the case,” he said. “Additionally, the E. coli identified in the study is not a type that would make consumers ill.” 

Dr. Barnard, who is vegan, insisted that it does. Asked what public health issues, if any, the testing had exposed, he said: “It’s hard to know. Some problems caused by fecal contamination can be unexpected.”

He cited recent Canadian research that found that E. coli bacteria from chickens had caused urinary tract infections that had previously been attributed to individuals’ own E. coli. 

In the physicians study, the samples came from a wide variety of processors, including Perdue and Pilgrim’s. They were bought in stores including Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons. 

“We have stringent food safety policies in place to maintain the quality of fresh raw poultry, and these policies are designed to insure we adhere to proper temperature control, sanitation, hygiene and date marking practices,” said Mike Siemienas, of Supervalu, which owns an Albertsons in San Diego where some of the chicken was bought. 

Some samples showed higher levels of E. coli than the Department of Agriculture considers acceptable for carcasses when tested at processing plants. 

But Dr. Catherine N. Cutter, an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at Pennsylvania State University, said that it was impossible to know if the higher level of contamination came from the processing plants or developed as the chicken made its way into the grocery store or during testing. 

“There are a lot of things that could come into play that could have caused the higher microbial loads they found,” Dr. Cutter said. “Without more information like slaughter dates and shelf life, it’s hard to make a determination about how or where the higher counts came from.” 

If a package sat in a refrigerated case for two or three days, or spent more time on a loading dock than a processor had anticipated, low levels of E. coli bacteria could multiply, she said. 

“The main thing,” Dr. Cutter said, “is that consumers properly handle a raw chicken and avoid cross contamination as much as possible and cook it thoroughly.”

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