If you thought you were avoiding potential superbugs by buying organic chicken, you might want to reconsider your shopping list — researchers at Consumer Reports have announced that a mind-boggling 97% of grocery store chicken in the US is contaminated with bacteria that can cause food-borne illness. Not only that, but nearly half the samples tested positive for antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The worst part? Organic and antibiotic-free chicken weren’t significantly safer than factory-farmed chicken.
The researchers tested 316 raw chicken breasts from major national grocery chains and regional markets in 26 different states. 64 of those samples were from brands that use no antibiotics in raising chickens, and 24 of those were from organic suppliers. Each breast was tested for six types of bacteria that can cause illness in humans: salmonella, campylobacter, staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, eneterococcus, and klebsiella pneumoniae.
Every major brand Consumer Reports tested contained high enough counts of bacteria to potentially make someone sick, and nearly half of the samples contained bacterial strains indicating possible fecal contamination during processing.
So where exactly are all these bacteria coming from? Apparently, there are two main methods of transmission. One is through cramped living conditions, which force chickens to come into regular contact with feces prior to slaughter. The other is through slaughtering processes which cause bacteria to be transferred from the intestinal tract into the meat.
To avoid getting sick from your entree, experts recommend a few safe handling measures. Some are pretty obvious, like using a meat thermometer to ensure your meat is fully cooked, and using a separate cutting board for raw meat. However, it’s also possible to transfer bacteria from raw chicken onto other foods or parts of your kitchen unintentionally, so it’s important to put your meat into a plastic bag at the store before placing it in the cart with other groceries. You should also avoid washing the chicken before cooking as that can spread bacteria up to 3 feet from the sink.