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Half of Supermarket Chickens Tainted with Poultry Faeces

12 April 2012

US - Nearly half the chicken products marketed by national brands and sold in supermarkets are contaminated with faeces, according to laboratory test results of chicken samples from 15 grocery store chains in 10 major US cities. The testing was conducted by an independent analytical testing laboratory at the request of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

PCRM investigated chickens from Perdue, Pilgrim’s, and Sanderson Farms, as well as 22 other popular brands. Testing revealed that 48 per cent of the chicken samples tested positive for faecal contamination, indicated by the presence of coliform bacteria commonly found in chicken dung. The bacterial species E. coli is a type of coliform bacteria and a specific indicator used by slaughter and processing plants to check for faecal contamination of food products and water.

Chicken samples from every city and every grocery store chain tested positive. In Dallas, 100 per cent of the chicken bought at the Kroger’s store tested positive for faecal matter. In Washington, D.C., 83 per cent of the chicken bought at a Giant store and 67 per cent of the chicken bought at a Safeway tested positive. Samples were also tested in Charleston, South Carolina, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Miami, and San Diego.

“One in every two supermarket chickens is contaminated with faeces,” says PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D. “Meat packers can’t avoid contaminating poultry products during production, and consumers are cooking and eating chicken faeces in about half the cases.”

Skinless chicken breast was particularly likely to have faecal traces, and both “organically produced” and “conventional” products were frequently contaminated.

The US Department of Agriculture is now considering privatizing poultry inspection. The proposal would reduce the time poultry workers have to inspect each carcase for faeces and could result in more contaminated chicken products reaching supermarket shelves.

A 2009 USDA study found that 87 per cent of chicken carcases tested positive for E. coli after chilling and just prior to packaging. Every year, contaminated poultry products cause approximately 1.5 million illnesses, 12,000 hospitalizations, and 180 deaths. However, most people eating cooked chicken faeces have no symptoms and are unaware of what they have ingested.

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