Handling chicken can lead to the colonization of one’s colon with antibiotic resistant E. coli that may result in bladder infections in women.
Where do bladder infections come from? Back in the 70's, longitudinal studies of women over time showed that the movement of rectal bacteria up into the vaginal area preceded the appearance of those same types of bacteria in the urethra before they were able to infect the bladder, but it would be another 25 years before genetic fingerprinting techniques were able to confirm this so-called fecal-perinealurethral theory, indicating that indeed it's the E.coli strains residing in the rectal flora that serve as a reservoir for urinary tract infections.
But it would be another 15 years still before we tracked it back another step and figured out where that rectal reservoir of bladder infecting E.coli was coming from chicken. Researchers were able to capture these extraintestinal (meaning outside of the gut), pathogenic, disease-causing E. coli straight from the slaughterhouse, to the meat, to the urine specimens obtained infected women. We now have "proof of a direct link between farm animals, meat, and bladder infections," solid evidence that urinary tract infections can be a zoonosis. Urinary tract infections are an animal to human disease. And we're talking millions of women infected a year costing over a billion dollars.
Even worse, the detection of multidrug resistant strains of E. coli in chicken meat resistant to some of our most powerful antibiotics.
The best way to prevent bladder infections is the same way you best prevent all types of infections, by not getting infected in the first place. It's not in all meat equally—beef and pork appear significantly less likely to harbor bladder-infecting strains than chicken.
Can't you just use a meat thermometer and cook chicken thoroughly? We've known for 36 years that it's not always the meat, but the cross-contamination. If you give people frozen chickens naturally contaminated with antibiotic resistant E. coli, let people prepare and cook it in their own kitchen as they normally would poof--the bacteria ends up in their rectum ready to cause trouble. In fact, 5 different strains of antibiotic resistant E coli jumped from the chicken to the volunteer. And they know it was cross-contamination because the jump happened after the animal was prepared but before it was eaten. Not only did it not matter how well the chicken was cooked, it doesn't even matter if you eat any! It's the bringing of the contaminated carcass into the home and handling it. Within days, the drug resistant chicken bacteria had multiplied to the point of becoming a major part of the person's fecal flora. Here's all this drug resistant bacteria colonizing this person's colon, yet the person hadn't taken any antibiotics—it's the chickens who were given the drugs. That's why the industry shouldn't be routinely feeding chickens antibiotics by the millions of pounds a year. It can end up selecting for and amplifying superbugs that may end up in your body.
What if you're really careful in the kitchen? The effectiveness of hygiene procedures for prevention of cross-contamination from chicken carcasses in the domestic kitchen. They went into five dozen homes, gave them each a chicken and asked them to cook it. I expected to read that they inoculated the carcass with a specific number of bacteria to ensure everyone got a contaminated bird, but no. They realized that fecal contamination of chicken carcasses was so common that they just went to the store and bought any random chicken.
After they were done cooking it, there was bacteria from chicken feces—salmonella, campylobacter—both serious human pathogens, everywere, on the cutting board, utensils, on their hands, on the fridge handle, cupboard, oven handle doorknob. But this was before they cleaned up. What about after cleaning? Still pathogenic fecal bacteria everywhere.
OK, fine, obviously people don't know what they're doing, so they took another group of people and gave them specific instructions. After you cook the chicken you have to wash everything with hot water and detergent, they were told specifically to wash the cutting board, knobs on the sink, the faucet, the fridge, the doorknobs, everything. The researchers still found pathogenic fecal bacteria everywhere. Fine. Last group. This time they were going to insist that people bleach everything. The dishcloth was immersed in bleach disinfectant and then they sprayed the bleach on all those surfaces. Let the bleach disinfectant sit there for 5 minutes. And still they found campylobacter and salmonella on some utensils, a dishcloth, the counter around the sink and the cupboard. Definitely better, but still, unless our kitchen is like some biohazard lab, the only way to guarantee we're not going to leave infection around the kitchen is to not bring it into the house in the first place.
The good news is that it's not like you eat chicken once and you're colonized for life. In this study the chicken bacteria only seemed to last about 10 days. The problem is that people tend to eat chicken more than once every ten days so they were constantly introducing these chicken pathogens into their system. For example if you start feeding people only sterilized meat that's been boiled for an hour, within 3 weeks there's a 500 fold drop in the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria passing through their bodies.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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I originally explored this topic in Chicken Out of UTIs, but decided I needed to take a much deeper dive, especially in light of the cross-contamination issue, which I also previously touched on in Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination and Fecal Contamination of Sushi.
More on the insanity of feeding antibiotics to farm animals by the ton in:
Other videos about diseases that one might not typically associate with food include:
More on urinary tract health in:
What if you already have a urinary tract infection? Can Cranberry Juice Treat Bladder Infections? That's the next video!
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