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All squished together. No wonder we've got a problem.

All squished together. No wonder we've got a problem.

I love Consumer Reports. It’s not a “liberal” magazine. It’s one of the most respected independent magazines out there, actually. So when it supports something I’ve been preaching about for ages…well…it’s pretty nice.

This weekend we got the January 2010 issue. One of the coverlines: How Safe is Chicken? Page 19. I flipped to the story right away. It resonated because, ever since I read about the European Union banning our chlorinated chicken, I’ve had a hard time getting it down. That’s right: that chicken sandwich you ate for lunch? Before it was sliced up, it was part of a whole chicken. And whole chickens? Well, in this country most chicken “farmers” (and I use that term loosely) dunk chickens in a solution of bleach water before selling them to the public. That’s how they try to kill the salmonella and campylobacter that inhabit the birds. How do they get those germs? Well, eating chicken poop is one way. Crowded, cramped living spaces is another. The whole combination of germs and bleach and dipping just makes me feel sick.

Okay, so back to the Consumer Reports story. According to the story, all that bleach water isn’t really making much of a difference. CR tested 382 chickens to see if they were free of germs. The results: “Campylobacter was in 62 percent of the chickens, salmonella was in 14 percent, and both bacteria were in 9 percent.” Another take-away: The cleanest birds were the ones that were air-chilled; only 40 percent of those birds harbored germs. Organic birds — no surprise — fared way better. None of the organic chickens had salmonella present, although only 43 percent were free of campylobacter. Bell & Evans organic air-chilled broilers were the only brand to emerge completely germ-free, although there was a caveat that they only tested eight birds from that brand.

Wait, so you’re dunking chicken in bleach water, and it’s not even working? So the chicken most Americans are eating not only has bleach residue, but it also still has germs? Really? No wonder the European Union is complaining about our practices. I can’t say it enough, and now Consumer Reports is saying it, too. The mainstream meat industry in this country is deplorable. When you treat animals like garbage, they become garbage. (What’s that saying? Garbage in, garbage out…) Consumer Reports says it even better: “Consumers shouldn’t have to play roulette with poultry; the USDA must make chicken less risky to eat.”

So that’s why I am asking you to make a change — and take action. The next time you are at the store, consider the source of your meat. Is it really worth it to buy a cheap chicken if it can make you sick? Isn’t your health worth going organic? Look for air-chilled organic chicken, and make sure you cook that chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. And even if you’re not willing to spend the extra cash, contact the folks at the USDA and demand that they demand that our food be safer. Don’t feel like clicking through? The phone number is (202) 720-2791. It’s a new year. Let’s make a little noise.

Do you think about how your food is manufactured? What role should the government take in keeping our food safe? Do you agree that the government isn’t doing enough? I’d like to hear about it.

3 Responses to “Which Comes First? The Chicken or the Germ?”

  1. Jen Singer says:

    What drives me crazy is that, chances are, some government agency or corporation will declare that the bleach is at “safe levels for consumption.” But that doesn’t take into effect the gazillions of other chemicals we’re taking in daily at “safe levels.” The simpler the ingredients, the better.

    Nicely done, Karen.

  2. MarthaandMe says:

    I only buy organic chicken, or chicken from uncertified organic farmers I know. I am disgusted by what is done to meat and by how chickens are raised.

  3. Jane Austin says:

    Thank you for writing this! Besides ruining dishes with the bleachy taste, I’ve become very sick for over a year from purdue chicken. Keep getting the word out!

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