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.

22 responses to “Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly but Not Illegal

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  1. The problem of bacterial contamination can largely be solved simply by not eating meat, poultry, eggs or other animal products. In other words, go vegan!

    1. While eliminating meat does lead to a general reduction in probability of infection from bacterial sources, there’s no way I would call it ‘solved!’ You can still get all manner of illnesses from vegetables, E. coli being the most prominent in the states. Bacterial contamination is still possible in a vegan diet, don’t use it as an excuse to skip food safety preparation steps! :)

      1. While what you say is true there have been bacterial outbreaks in vegetables. The outbreak on spinach in California a few years ago being the most famous. It is the result of disreputable farmers putting raw manure on their fields, not with any problem with the vegetables as vegetables do not have rectums. Beyond that I agree with you that everyone, Vegan or not should practice proper food safety. However I must say that it is much easier to practice safe food preparation if you are not flopping hunks of dead animal carcass covered with fecal contamination on your kitchen counter every day.

  2. The only way to be healthy and happy at any age is to go Vegan.
    Thank you Dr Gregar.
    I heard your talk two years ag.
    I became 100 percent Vegan the very next day.
    I live in Cyprus where the BBQ is everybody’s way of life.
    Thank you again for all the information.
    Dianne.

  3. Wow. Wow.. Wow!! Your passion for exposing the truth is evident in your wry sense of humor which makes this bunch of baloney from the meat industry tolerable to stomach. Pardon the pun!

  4. Another nail in the coffin for meat. Do you wanna die quickly – eat meat. Do you wanna die slowly – eat meat. Do you wanna kill the planet – eat meat. Ironically people shift from beef to poultry to be more healthy. PCRM suggested to label poultry with a warning label: “May contain feces”. Vegan rules.

    1. Death from food poisoning is not a pleasant way to go. One of the most pleasant things about cooking with plants is that you don’t have to take hazardous material precautions when you cook!

  5. I just want to point out that the problem is in the conventionally raised factory farmed chickens. If you buy pastured, small scale farmed chickens, not only are they nutritionally healthier, they don’t run the same risks.Same goes for organic grass fed beef.

    1. This reply is made again and again in response to any negative claim regarding meat consumption. Could you please share your sources for this claim? As I have never seen any research comparing the two.

      If you have no sources, you should preface your statements with some indication that this is only your personal opinion, as people who frequent this site do so because they are interested in what peer-reviewed research has to say, not personal opinions.

  6. Hi Dr. Greger, greetings from The Netherlands. There’s a lot of media attention about ESBL here right now. ESBL (Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamase) was found in almost all chickenmeat in the supermarket and in about 40% of the beef. This bacteria makes you resistent to antibiotics. The dutch authorities say it’s okay to eat the meat, as long as you make sure it’s cooked thoroughly. I’d like to know what you have to say about this.

  7. I’m a vegan. But I have to be objective here. Salmonella-produce ranked 8th. Yes. Washing helps. Never the less……..
    if we go on the attack we have to be honest about the fact that all of the food chain is contaminated. We all need to look into doing our own farming as much as possible. Comments?

  8. Cindy n Mnl: I have moderator permissions now. I had not remembered this comment until you just commented. I took care of it. Note: This site is not perfect, but I think we do a pretty good job of keeping things civil – and more than that, even engaging. :-) Thank you for your comment.

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