SAN ANTONIO – Chances are you have some chicken in your fridge or freezer, but you might be surprised to learn that it could be knowingly contaminated with dangerous bacteria and it’s perfectly legal to sell it.
Chicken is a popular dish on dinner tables, but careful cooking is critical so the family doesn’t get sick.
“Bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter, which are often in raw or undercooked chicken and turkey, are two of the leading causes of bacterial foodborne illness in people,” said Rachel Rabkin-Peachman with Consumer Reports.
Together, those two bacteria kill about 450 people each year and make nearly 1.9 million people sick, with 28,000 ending up in the hospital.
But food safety advocates say there is something else that’s alarming.
“Poultry processors can legally distribute their products, even if they know they may contain harmful bacteria,” Rabkin-Peachman said.
The USDA allows 9.8% of the whole chickens it tests to be contaminated with salmonella, and with chicken parts and ground chicken, the percentages are even higher, according to Consumer Reports’ findings.
The USDA says it set those standards based on “a risk-assessment process that estimates the salmonella and campylobacter percentages needed to meet national public health goals.”
The National Chicken Council, an industry trade group, says about 90% of chicken processing plants are “meeting and exceeding” present USDA standards for salmonella on whole chickens and chicken parts.
Consumer advocates say that is still not enough, and that the USDA should strive for a zero-tolerance policy.
So, how can you make sure your family chicken dinner doesn’t make anyone sick? Cooking the poultry thoroughly will kill the bacteria. Use an accurate meat thermometer to be sure the poultry is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.