GREENSBORO, N.C. — You might be surprised to learn that it’s perfectly legal for poultry processors to knowingly sell chicken that may be contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria. A new Consumer Reports investigation reveals how lethal but legal germs can end up in our food supply, and what you need to do to keep your dinner table safe.
"Bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter, which are often in raw or undercooked chicken and turkey, are two of the leading causes of bacterial foodborne illness in people," said Rachel Rabkin Peachman, Consumer Reports Investigative Reporter.
They kill about 450 people each year and make nearly 1.9 million people sick, with 28 thousand ending up in a hospital.
"And what’s even more alarming is that poultry processors can legally distribute their products even if they know they may contain harmful bacteria," said Peachman.
In fact, the USDA allows 9.8% of the whole chickens it tests to be contaminated with salmonella. And when you look at chicken parts and ground chicken, the percentages are even higher. The agency says it set those standards based on “a risk-assessment process that estimates the salmonella and campylobacter percentages needed to meet the national public health goals.”
The National Chicken Council, a trade group, says about 90 percent of chicken processing plants are “meeting and exceeding” present USDA standards for salmonella on whole chickens and chicken parts.
But Consumer Reports and other food-safety advocates say that’s still not enough, and that the USDA should strive for a zero-tolerance policy.
So how can you make sure your family’s chicken dinner doesn’t make anyone sick? Use an accurate meat thermometer to make sure your poultry is thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
CR also recommends always thawing your poultry in the fridge. And never wash your poultry in a sink because that could spread bacteria in your kitchen.