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Posted Tuesday, December 24, 2013
About half of samples tested had at least one bacteria resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics; bacteria were more resistant to antibiotics approved for use in chicken production
Yonkers, NY — In its most comprehensive tests of meat and poultry to date, Consumer Reports found bacteria that could make consumers sick on nearly all of the 316 raw chicken breasts purchased at retail nationwide. The full report, “The High Cost of Cheap Chicken,” is featured in the February 2014 issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.
While Consumer Reports has consistently been testing chicken for more than 15 years, this is the first time it has looked at the contamination rates for six different bacteria – enterococcus (79.8 percent), E.coli (65.2 percent), campylobacter (43 percent), klebsiella pneumonia (13.6 percent), salmonella (10.8 percent), and staphylococcus aureus (9.2 percent). It also evaluated every bacterium for antibiotic resistance and found that about half the chicken samples harbored at least one multidrug-resistant bacteria.
As part of this investigation, the Consumer Reports National Research Center recently conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,005 respondents about their understanding of labels and their handling and cooking habits for chicken. The survey found that more than half of respondents thought that “natural” chickens did not receive antibiotics or genetically modified feed and more than one-third thought “natural” was equal to “organic,” all of which are not true.
"Our tests show consumers who buy chicken breast at their local grocery stores are very likely to get a sample that is contaminated and likely to get a bug that is multidrug resistant. When people get sick from resistant bacteria, treatment may be getting harder to find,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and Executive Director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center. “Our survey also shows that consumers are making buying decisions based on label claims that they believe are offering them additional value when that is not in fact the case. The marketplace clearly needs to change to meet consumer expectations.”
Consumer Reports’ study comes at a time when 48 million people are falling sick and 3,000 dying in the United States each year from eating tainted food, with more deaths being attributed to poultry than any other commodity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other highlights from Consumer Reports’ findings include:
Since 1998, Consumer Reports’ tests of chicken have shown salmonella rates have not changed much, ranging between 11 and 16 percent.
"We know especially for salmonella, other countries have reduced their rates. In fact, systemic solutions were implemented throughout the European Union. Government data show that in 2010, 22 countries met the European target for less than or equal to 1 percent contamination of two important types of salmonella in their broiler flocks. There is no reason why the United States can't do the same," concludes Rangan.
For more information on what has been done in Europe and different sustainability practices, visit www.ConsumerReports.org/cro/chicken0214.
What the Government Can Do
“We are looking to the government to ensure the safety and sustainability of the entire food supply,” said Rangan. “We need to attack the root causes of the problems. Without a government focus on effective solutions, meat safety will continue to be compromised.”
In order to reduce rates of bacterial contamination as European counterparts have done and preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, calls on the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), Congress, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to do the following:
What Consumers Can Do
Consumer Reports advises consumers to follow these tips to ensure proper handling and cooking of chicken:
Note: Support for this project was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts. Any views expressed are those of Consumer Reports and its advocacy arm, Consumers Union, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
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