Chicken Salmonella Thanks to Meat Industry Lawsuit

Chicken Salmonella Thanks to Meat Industry Lawsuit
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The meat industry sued the federal government, winning the right to sell food known to be contaminated with food-poisoning bacteria.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Mexico banned the importation of Foster Farms chicken on public health grounds, but it’s still sold in the United States. Why wasn’t there a recall? How could they continue to legally sell chicken contaminated with a virulent strain of salmonella? It all goes back to Supreme Beef vs. USDA, a court case in which the meat industry sued the USDA after the agency 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 was not illegal to sell contaminated meat; in fact, what was illegal was the USDA trying to protect the public by shutting down the plant. “[B]ecause normal cooking practices…destroy…Salmonella…,…the presence of Salmonella in meat products does not render them ‘injurious to health.’ Salmonella-infected [meat] is thus…legal to sell to the consumer.”

But, “even though consumers [can] eliminate Salmonella on…chicken by proper cooking,” we can “still be exposed to and acquire a Salmonella infection from cross-contamination…with Salmonella from raw chicken during meal preparation.” If you 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 10 min” transferred campylobacter infection to the cutting board. (That’s another food-poisoning bacteria found in chicken feces.) And then, if you put cooked chicken back on the same cutting board, there’s about a 30% chance it will become re-contaminated.

Even though people know that washing hands can decrease the risk of food poisoning, only about two-thirds say they actually do it. Even though most people know about cross-contamination, a third don’t even report washing their cutting boards. Though awareness appears to be growing, as we saw before, even when people wash the cutting boards with hot soapy water, you can still find salmonella and campylobacter. The reason most people have more bacteria from feces in their kitchen than in their bathroom is because people rinse their chickens in the sink, not the toilet. So, even though cooking can kill salmonella, it can still contaminate our kitchen, and make us sick.

Foster Farms swore they’d try to reduce the number of chickens they were producing with salmonella from 1 in 4 to just 1 in 20. Why not zero tolerance, like they have in countries like 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, though. But as one industry-funded scientist explained, 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.” What? That’s like a car company saying we can’t make safe cars, because then, no one will wear a seat belt.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Mexico banned the importation of Foster Farms chicken on public health grounds, but it’s still sold in the United States. Why wasn’t there a recall? How could they continue to legally sell chicken contaminated with a virulent strain of salmonella? It all goes back to Supreme Beef vs. USDA, a court case in which the meat industry sued the USDA after the agency 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 was not illegal to sell contaminated meat; in fact, what was illegal was the USDA trying to protect the public by shutting down the plant. “[B]ecause normal cooking practices…destroy…Salmonella…,…the presence of Salmonella in meat products does not render them ‘injurious to health.’ Salmonella-infected [meat] is thus…legal to sell to the consumer.”

But, “even though consumers [can] eliminate Salmonella on…chicken by proper cooking,” we can “still be exposed to and acquire a Salmonella infection from cross-contamination…with Salmonella from raw chicken during meal preparation.” If you 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 10 min” transferred campylobacter infection to the cutting board. (That’s another food-poisoning bacteria found in chicken feces.) And then, if you put cooked chicken back on the same cutting board, there’s about a 30% chance it will become re-contaminated.

Even though people know that washing hands can decrease the risk of food poisoning, only about two-thirds say they actually do it. Even though most people know about cross-contamination, a third don’t even report washing their cutting boards. Though awareness appears to be growing, as we saw before, even when people wash the cutting boards with hot soapy water, you can still find salmonella and campylobacter. The reason most people have more bacteria from feces in their kitchen than in their bathroom is because people rinse their chickens in the sink, not the toilet. So, even though cooking can kill salmonella, it can still contaminate our kitchen, and make us sick.

Foster Farms swore they’d try to reduce the number of chickens they were producing with salmonella from 1 in 4 to just 1 in 20. Why not zero tolerance, like they have in countries like 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, though. But as one industry-funded scientist explained, 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.” What? That’s like a car company saying we can’t make safe cars, because then, no one will wear a seat belt.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Image thanks to CDC- Debora Cartagena

Nota del Doctor

I’ve touched on this before in Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly but Not Illegal, Zero Tolerance to Acceptable Risk, and Unsafe at Any Feed. For more on the Foster Farms outbreak, see Foster Farms Responds to Chicken Salmonella Outbreaks.

More on the issue of cross-contamination in:

Note that 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 Total Recall.

Though some meat additives may make meat safer (see Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray), others may increase the food safety risk. See Phosphate Additives in Chicken. In Who Determines if Food Additives are Safe?, I explore how it is that harmful additives can end up on store shelves.

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