Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly but Not Illegal

Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly but Not Illegal
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Hundreds of thousands of Americans are Salmonella-poisoned by poultry every year—yet it remains legal to sell meat proven to be contaminated.

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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.

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-related hospitalization, and the #1 cause of food-poisoning-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 eight 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 a year to 200,000, and rightly hailed as a significant accomplishment. So, now, eating chicken only sickens about 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 so, are now poisoning 40% fewer kids. Not exactly something to boast about. 

And the numbers have since rebounded back upwards. In the late 90s, human Salmonella cases have increased by 44% since then. The rebound in incidence of Salmonella infection in the United States is likely a result of several factors. But, one important risk factor singled out is eating chicken, as the proportion of chicken carrying Salmonella infection has increased. 

When people think manure in meat, they typically think ground beef. But, when you look at E. coli levels in meat, 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% 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, have dropped, like 30%. But not only has Salmonella not declined in the past fifteen years, it’s actually increased lately. One reason is that there was a prohibition of contamination with the deadly E. coli in beef. What a concept! So, selling contaminated 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 for wholesomeness on meat contaminated with Salmonella.

What could the USDA possibly say in meat’s defense? As relayed by the Circuit judge, the USDA 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 ah, there’s no need to label cans of tuna with mercury levels, because you could also get exposed eating thermometers. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the meat industry position, arguing that you can allow potentially deadly salmonella in meat because, and I quote, “American housewives are…normally not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking of food do not ordinarily result in [Salmonella food poisoning].”

What? That’s like saying, oh, minivans don’t need seat belts in the back seat, because, you know, soccer moms don’t ordinarily crash into things.

Now, 39 years later, 200,000 Americans, sickened every year by Salmonella that continues to be legally allowed in chicken.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Chris Brown via Wikimedia and Discover magazine

 

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.

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-related hospitalization, and the #1 cause of food-poisoning-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 eight 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 a year to 200,000, and rightly hailed as a significant accomplishment. So, now, eating chicken only sickens about 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 so, are now poisoning 40% fewer kids. Not exactly something to boast about. 

And the numbers have since rebounded back upwards. In the late 90s, human Salmonella cases have increased by 44% since then. The rebound in incidence of Salmonella infection in the United States is likely a result of several factors. But, one important risk factor singled out is eating chicken, as the proportion of chicken carrying Salmonella infection has increased. 

When people think manure in meat, they typically think ground beef. But, when you look at E. coli levels in meat, 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% 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, have dropped, like 30%. But not only has Salmonella not declined in the past fifteen years, it’s actually increased lately. One reason is that there was a prohibition of contamination with the deadly E. coli in beef. What a concept! So, selling contaminated 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 for wholesomeness on meat contaminated with Salmonella.

What could the USDA possibly say in meat’s defense? As relayed by the Circuit judge, the USDA 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 ah, there’s no need to label cans of tuna with mercury levels, because you could also get exposed eating thermometers. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the meat industry position, arguing that you can allow potentially deadly salmonella in meat because, and I quote, “American housewives are…normally not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking of food do not ordinarily result in [Salmonella food poisoning].”

What? That’s like saying, oh, minivans don’t need seat belts in the back seat, because, you know, soccer moms don’t ordinarily crash into things.

Now, 39 years later, 200,000 Americans, sickened every year by Salmonella that continues to be legally allowed in chicken.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Chris Brown via Wikimedia and Discover magazine

 

Doctor's Note

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 why 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.

Don’t worry, though—the meat industry is on it! See my videos Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray (if you dare! :)

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 further context, read my associated blog post: Why Is Selling Salmonella-Tainted Chicken Legal?

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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