Hundreds of thousands of Americans are Salmonella poisoned by poultry every year, yet it remains legal to sell meat proven to be contaminated.
Images thanks to Chris Brown via Wikimedia Commons
When researchers last year at the Emerging Pathogens Institute ranked foodborne pathogens to figure out which was the worst, #1 on their list was Salmonella, ranked the food poisoning bacteria with the greatest public health burden on our country, the leading cause of food poisoning hospitalization, and the #1 cause of food-related death. Where do you get it from? Well I've talked about the threat of eggs. According to the FDA, 142,000 Americans are sickened every year by eggs contaminated with Salmonella. That's an egg-borne epidemic every year. But salmonella in eggs was only ranked the #10 worst pathogen-food combination. Salmonella in poultry ranks even worse, the #4 worst infected food in the United States in terms of both cost and quality-adjusted years of life lost. In terms of the Burden of Human salmonella poisoning attributable to various U.S. Foods, eating chicken may be 8 times riskier than eating eggs. Due to strengthening of food safety regulations under the Clinton administration the number of Americans food poisoned by chicken every year dropped from about 390,000 to 200,000, and rightly hailed as a significant accomplishment. So now eating chicken only sickens 200,000 people in the U.S. every year. But isn't that a bit like some toy company boasting that they've reduced the amount of lead in their toys and are now killing 40% fewer babies. Not exactly something to boast about. And the numbers have since rebounded upwards. Since the late 90's human salmonella cases have increased by 44%. The rebound in incidence of salmonella infection is likely a result of several factors, but one important risk factor singled out is eating chicken, as the proportion of chicken carrying infection has increased. When people think manure in meat they typically think ground beef, but when you look at E. coli levels, which "is considered an indicator of fecal contamination," sure, there's fecal matter in about two thirds of American beef, but that number is greater than 80% of fecal contamination in poultry—chicken and turkey. Why have we seen a decrease in the jack-in-the-box E. coli o157, but not chicken-borne Salmonella? In the last decade or so the infection of beef and subsequently children has dropped like 30%. Not only has Salmonella not declined in the past 15 years, but it's actually increased lately. One reason for the difference is that the o157:h7 was declared an adulterant, any poisonous or deleterious substance that may render meat injurious to health. So selling E. coli laden beef is illegal. Why is beef laced with E. coli contaminated fecal matter considered adulterated, but chicken laced with salmonella contaminated fecal matter a-ok? It certainly kills more people than the banned E.coli. It all goes back to a famous case in 1974, when the American Public Health Association sued the USDA saying, 'wait a second—you can't put a stamp of approval on meat contaminated with Salmonella.' What could the USDA possibly say in meat's defense? They pointed out that there have been salmonella outbreaks linked to dairy and eggs, for example, too, so since "there are numerous sources of contamination which might contribute to the overall problem" it would be "unjustified to single out the meat industry and ask that the Department require it to identify its raw products as being hazardous to health." That's like the tuna industry arguing there's no need to label cans of tuna with mercury levels because you can also get exposed eating a thermometer. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the meat industry position, arguing you can allow potentially deadly salmonella in meat because, and I quote, "American housewives are…normally are not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking of food do not ordinarily result in salmonellosis." What? That's like saying oh, minivans don't need airbags or seat-belts and kids don't need car seats because soccer moms don't ordinarily crash into things.
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 Jonathan Hodgson.
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I've talked about this travesty before in my blog post Why is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat? My video Unsafe at Any Feed explores the meat industry's blame-the-victim attitude. Food Poisoning Bacteria Cross-Contamination explains raw meat can be dangerous no matter how long you cook it and Fecal Bacteria Survey features an industry trade journal explaining the difference between the attitude in Europe and the United States.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has petitioned the USDA to bar the sale of Salmonella-contaminated meat, but so far to no avail.
For more context, read the associated blog post: Why Is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Legal?
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