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article imageOp-Ed: Most chicken in American stores is full of pathogens

By Karen Graham     Dec 20, 2013 in Health
Very few American's don't like chicken, either southern fried, baked or as chicken tenders along side their favorite dipping sauce. But most people don't realize just how many different kinds of dangerous pathogens raw chicken can harbor.
While chicken is a staple in most Americans diets, many people are unaware of the danger posed to consumers by the high rate of antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on poultry in their grocery stores.
Consumer Reports purchased poultry in stores around the country earlier this year, wanting to find out for themselves just how many bacteria are on the poultry we buy. They published their findings on Thursday. Of the more than 300 chicken breasts purchased, processed by multiple companies, over half harbored antibiotic resistant pathogens. Additionally, 97 percent of the packages had raw chicken harboring at least one of six harmful bacteria.
The six pathogens tested for included Salmonella sp., Campylobacter sp., Staphylococcus aureus (commonly called staph), Escherichia coli, Enterococcus sp. and Klebsiella pneumoniae (which is naturally present in the human stomach, but can cause pneumonia).
Consumer Reports gave a break-down of the percentage of pathogens found in the 316 chicken breasts. They are as follows: "nearly 80% of tested samples were contaminated with enterococcus, followed by E. coli (65%), campylobacter (43%), klebsiella pneumoniae (13.6%), salmonella (10.8%), and staph (9.2%)."
Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, and a toxicologist, had this to say, "The stuff can even hang out on the outside of the package. We're talking about serious potential for problems."
In September of this year, the Foster Farms salmonella outbreak made the news nationwide. This outbreak was caused by Salmonella bacteria, and over 40 people ended up in the hospital, almost double the rate usually seen in an outbreak of this kind. Some experts think the antibiotic-resistance of this strain of Salmonella may be at least partially responsible for the severity of the outbreak.
Like a big gorilla sitting in the middle of the living room, yet being ignored by everyone, the problems with antibiotic-resistant bacteria facing federal health officials, scientists and food-safety advocates is very real.
Over 2 million people fight an antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year. Of that number, 23,000 will die. Thomas Friedan, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a September report concerning the threat from drug-resistant bacteria, that we may soon be in a "post-antibiotic era."
In Dr. Freiden's telebriefing, he said that one of the first things we can do in preventing infection, particularly food-borne infections, is to practice safe food preparation and hand washing. This cannot be stressed enough.
But the biggest problem facing consumers and the public as a whole, is the over-use of antibiotics when they may not be needed, and the use of antibiotics in the raising of poultry, beef and pork in the U.S. One practice that is questionable is the use of low doses of antibiotics given to humans and animals over long periods of time. Experts say this gives bacteria ample time to evolve, becoming resistant to the antibiotic being used.
Just last week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked drug companies over the next three years, to voluntarily start labeling their antibiotics to not be used for growth promotion in livestock. If, and when a label changes, a farmer or feed mill would need a prescription from a veterinarian to get an antibiotic to treat a sick animal. Now, and until the labels are changed, anyone can buy antibiotics at a feed store without a prescription.
The question on everyone's mind is just how much this "voluntary" order from the FDA is going to work. This is the real "gorilla" in the living room. In the meantime, the same antibiotics being given to animals we eat, as well as the antibiotics in the feed they are eating, are killing us. Why? Bacteria that at one time were killed or inactivated by antibiotics are now evolving into drug-resistant bacteria.
Again, it is a conundrum, of sorts. Many veterinarians are employed by meat processing companies, and the poultry and beef lobby is well-endowed, also. This is more than likely the reason the FDA's new regulation is of a voluntary nature.
The National Chicken Council responded to the CR report in an email to the Huffington Post, saying that "99.99% of servings of chicken are consumed safely." In other words, out of every 160 million daily servings of chicken, only 16,000 of those serving are unsafe.
Mike Brown, the industry groups's president says "No legislation or regulation can keep bacteria from existing. We're at 99.99%, but we're going to keep working to reach 100."
"We take the safety of our chicken very seriously," added Brown. "After all, our families are eating the same chicken as you and yours."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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