Meat Industry Successfully sued to sell tainted meat

Image Credit: Danny Huizinga / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Meat Industry Wins Right to Sell Tainted Meat

In my last post, I talked about a particularly virulent strand of Salmonella traced to Foster Farms. But while even Mexico banned the importation of Foster Farms’ chicken on public health grounds, it was still sold in the United States. Why wasn’t there a recall? How could Foster Farms continue to legally sell chicken contaminated with this virulent strain of Salmonella? It all goes back to Supreme Beef v. USDA, a court case in which the meat industry sued the USDA after they had the audacity to try to shut down a slaughter plant that was repeatedly found violating Salmonella standards. The meat industry won. The Federal Appeals Court ruled that it wasn’t illegal to sell contaminated meat; what was illegal was the USDA trying to protect the public by shutting down the plant. Because normal cooking practices destroy Salmonella, the presence of Salmonella in meat does not render the meat “injurious to health.” Salmonella-infected meat is thus legal to sell to the consumer.

We can get infected no matter how well the meat is cooked though. According to researchers, even though consumers “may eliminate Salmonella on ready-to-cook chicken by proper cooking, they could still be exposed to and acquire a Salmonella infection from cross-contamination of other foods with Salmonella from raw chicken during meal preparation.” If we measure the transfer rate from naturally contaminated poultry legs purchased in supermarkets to cutting boards in the kitchen, overall, 80% of the leg skins in contact with the cutting board for ten minutes transferred Campylobacter (another dangerous bacteria found in chicken feces) infection to the cutting board. And then if we put cooked chicken back on that same cutting board, there’s about a 30% chance it too will become contaminated.

Even though people know that washing hands can decrease the risk of food poisoning, only about 2/3 say they actually do it. Even though most people know about cross contamination, 1/3 don’t even say they wash their cutting boards. Though awareness appears to be growing, even when people wash the cutting boards with hot soapy water we can still find Salmonella and Campylobacter (see Avoiding Chicken to Avoid Bladder Infections). The reason most people have more bacteria from feces in their kitchen than their bathroom is because people rinse their chickens in the sink, not the toilet .

Foster Farms swore they’d try to reduce the number of chickens they were producing with this virulent strain of Salmonella from 1 in 4 to just 1 in 20. Why not a zero tolerance policy in countries such as Sweden? Because then, as the head of food safety for Costco noted, “you wouldn’t have a poultry industry.”

Other countries have been able to raise chickens without Salmonella. One industry-funded scientist complained that if the entire onus to produce safe products is placed on industry, “it then gives the consumer no personal responsibility to handle their product correctly.” That’s like a car company saying we can’t make safe cars because then no one will wear a seat belt.

I’ve touched on this topic before in my videos Salmonella in Chicken and Turkey Deadly but Not Illegal, Zero Tolerance to Acceptable Risk, and Unsafe at Any Feed.

More on the issue of cross-contamination in:

Note when it comes to egg-borne infection the issue is not just cross-contamination, given Salmonella can survive the most common egg cooking methods. Check out my video Total Recall.

Though some meat additives may make meat safer (Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray), others may increase the food safety risk. See my video Phosphate Additives in Chicken.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

20 responses to “Meat Industry Wins Right to Sell Tainted Meat

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  1. I’m so glad I gave up meat 18 years ago. However, I can’t seem to find effective alternatives to eggs in certain recipes for baking, and that really worries me. I guess I’m going to have to raise my own, and I hear its a lot of work.

    1. Hi Nigel. So nothing works as far as egg replacers go? I have a long list of possible substitutions, let me know if you want to view. Thanks for your comment!


      1. Hi Joseph, I be grateful to receive that list of egg substitutes, I have a couple of ok methods but more would be better, I never use eggs though.

              1. Hey Joseph and jj.
                Thanks a lot.
                I run a blog for new vegetarians and it is always nice to be able to pass on such advices :)

        1. I don’t bake a lot of things but have found ground flax seed in water let sit 10 minutes works very nicely for everything I bake. There are recipes on the web for eggless pumpkin pie and other things.

      2. Thanks for the reply. I’ve tried the soaked flax seeds for egg white replacement when needing beaten egg whites for meringue, but they fall flat so quickly and won’t dry with the same crunch for Pavlovas. I once tried an egg replacer for pumpkin pie, which smelled absolutely atrocious whilst baking. Every time I try an egg free version of pancakes, they seem flat and lifeless.

        I welcome new ideas or tips, but I really enjoy beating egg whites for any recipe. I don’t use much of the yolk, but there is just nothing like a good ol’ egg based cookie recipe. I really only use a few more eggs than normal at holiday times. I might get through a dozen every month or two with most of the yolks going down the drain. However, I’m very conscious about cracking the eggs in the sink, using only stainless steel with them, and boiling afterwards. Plus, the calcium in the shells really do wonders for my rose bushes. I’m really considering getting a hen or two.

        1. Well, if you can’t get your own hens, it is possible to biuy non-factory eggs almost everywhere. There are genuine free-range farms selling organic eggs, they’re just more expensive.

  2. Since we know that cross contamination is an issue, and that cooking meat only reduces risk, instead of eliminating it.

    Isn’t that grounds to try to reverse the decision in Surpreme Beef vs USDA?

    1. I think many others felt the same way! I do hope this is investigated more and better efforts to protect human health at put into place.

  3. For what it’s worth, wood protects itself with chemicals that destroy bacteria. Bacteria on wooden cutting boards will be gone overnight, whereas some bacteria may remain on plastic cutting boards even after being scrubbed.

  4. Dear dr Greger, what would you respond to this ?

    “Likewise, people who eat meat from animals raised on organic farms that don’t pump their cattle full of hormones can be just as healthy as vegans who eat organic fruits and vegetables and the right kinds of grains.”

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