A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has good news and bad news. The good news is that rates of food poisoning in America have been holding steady over the last few years. A steady rate of foodborne illness means prevention and regulatory efforts are working.
The bad news? Rates involving two specific causes of food poisoning are not improving. Salmonella and Campylobacter illness remains a major threat to public health. Each of these bacteria hitch a ride into your dinner via an ingredient that the CDC has identified as the most likely to give you food poisoning – chicken.
Chicken is the Most Likely Food to Give you Food Poisoning
According to a CDC report published in April 2019, the food most likely to make you sick with Salmonella or Campylobacter infection is chicken. This is especially concerning since chicken is the most popularly consumed meat in American households.
The prevalence of chicken contamination is so high that food regulation agencies like the CDC regularly stress safe handling and cooking practices. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that raw poultry carries the risk of foodborne illness and must be handled in a manner designed to kill the bacteria before consuming the meat.
How Salmonella Gets on Chicken
Salmonella are bacteria that live in human and animal intestines. They escape the intestine when the animal or person defecates. Salmonella does not live inside an animal’s muscles, so it naturally follows that the bacteria spreads when the meat comes into contact with feces.
How Campylobacter Gets on Chicken
Campylobacter is another bacterial pathogen. It is the number one cause of gastroenteritis (stomach flu) in the world. These bacteria live in the intestines of many warm-blooded animals, including chickens. Campylobacter can also sometimes survive in water. Campylobacter illness is a disease transmitted from animals to people when we consume the bacteria – most often through contamination with fecal matter.
Does the FDA Allow these Pathogens on our Food?
Far worse than simply unappetizing, fecal contamination causes food poisoning. Each year, more than 100,000 people go to the hospital with a foodborne illness. About 3,000 people die as a result of foodborne illness.
Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the CDC exist to regulate food products for public safety. With that in mind, it must be asked – How are so many people getting food poisoning from chicken? How are so many people getting sick from fecal contamination? Consider the following:
Modern high-efficiency chicken processing is thought to be at least partially to blame for chicken contamination. Chicken carcasses whiz along mechanized assembly lines at a rate of more than 100 birds per minute. Because every individual chicken’s bodily dimensions are somewhat unique, the machinery can sometimes cut the intestines in the wrong spot and contaminate the meat with fecal matter.
Because the birds move along the line so fast, it’s not possible to remove every single contaminated chicken from the line before it ends up in the chilling tank. The chilling tank is another culprit within chicken processing plants. Chilling tanks are enormous vats of cool water meant to cool the meat rapidly for food safety reasons. Many times, these tanks serve as a medium to spread fecal contamination through the water to all the other meat in the vat.
How Much Contamination is Allowed?
While most of us would assume that any degree of contamination is too much, that does not appear to be the case. As much as 48 percent of chicken sold in grocery stores may have evidence of fecal contamination.
As for what the FDA and USDA allow, their rules for fecal contamination only preclude the sale of poultry with visible feces on the meat. Of course, the bacteria that actually give you food poisoning are too small to see.
Federal food regulation agencies do monitor for the presence of pathogens like Salmonella and Campylobacter, but their inspections are clearly not catching anything near all contaminated chicken products. Unlike other food poisoning causes, chicken is just as likely to make Americans sick today as it was 20 years ago.
Food Poisoning Caused by Chicken
Symptoms of food poisoning from chicken are usually similar to that of Salmonella or Campylobacter infection. These symptoms include:
- Diarrhea, often bloody
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach cramps
- Fever and Chills
As with most food poisoning illnesses, symptoms can take a few days to manifest. A mild case of food poisoning will generally last less than a week. More severe cases may last longer, or may require hospitalization if dehydration develops.
Most healthy adults will only experience mild illness from food poisoning. Keep in mind, however, 3,000 Americans die each year from food poisoning. Many of those who succumb to food poisoning are children, the elderly, and immune-compromised adults. Food poisoning can also cause pregnant women to miscarry.
Vulnerable populations can have severe reactions including:
- Life-threatening dehydration.
- Guillain-Barré syndrome, a type of paralysis that can affect respiratory and nervous function (from Campylobacter).
- Reactive arthritis (from Salmonella).
- Bacteremia, which is when bacterial infection enters the bloodstream.
Many of the severe reactions can be fatal, especially in children or adults in fragile health.
Handle Chicken Safely to Avoid Food Poisoning
Since there is no guarantee that the poultry you buy in the grocery store won’t have fecal contamination, always handle and prepare poultry with the idea that it could make you sick. Always do the following:
- Keep raw chicken meat and juices from touching ready-to-eat foods.
- Do not wash raw chicken. You will only spray bacteria all over your sink and surrounding areas.
- Wash knives and surfaces that touched raw chicken thoroughly with hot water and soap.
- Use a designated cutting board only for raw chicken, and wash it thoroughly after each use.
- Thoroughly cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F to kill bacteria.
- Don’t rely on the appearance of the meat. Use a food thermometer.
- Serve chicken while it is hot.
- Refrigerate any cooked chicken within an hour.
Did You Get Food Poisoning from Contaminated Chicken?
If you or someone in your family has required medical attention due to food poisoning, talk to a food safety attorney at Bad Food Recall. You may have a legal claim for the harm that contaminated chicken caused you and your family.
Learn more about food poisoning, contaminated food, and your legal rights by contacting Bad Food Recall today. Submit our contact form or call 1-877-534-5750.