It’s been widely reported in the news outlets lately that 574 people became ill from an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella in Foster Farms chicken, one of the largest producers of poultry in the United States.
It’s alarming that this is the third such occurrence in the last decade at Foster Farms alone.
So, with that in mind, here are some important things you should know about chicken as a food source and how to choose safe and healthy food for your family.
All chicken, regardless of how it was raised, contains bacteria and pathogens that must be killed before it’s eaten. To do this, you must heat the meat to 165 degrees. The only way to be sure of this is by using a meat thermometer. Also, it’s imperative that you wash hands after handling raw poultry, and disinfect and clean all prep surfaces. For every single case of sickness, the meat was either not cooked properly, or contamination of the cooked meat occurred by reintroducing it to surfaces touched by raw meat.
Antibiotics and Chickens
According to study results that appeared in Johns Hopkins Magazine, up to 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in feed for farm animals in sub-therapeutic doses. It’s not a stretch to think that continuous use of the drugs are contributing to the growing epidemic of antibiotic resistance and new strains of harmful microbes in humans.
Even if you’ve never eaten meat, you are still at risk. The USDA estimates that 335 million tons of animal manure is produced by livestock and poultry. Some of that waste gets into rivers (that supply our drinking water) and into the surrounding environment. It’s inevitable that we are going to come into contact with it at some point.
Despite rumors that hormones are being used to plump-up chickens, in truth no such hormones are used in the United States. The USDA prohibits the use of any hormone to stimulate meat growth. Therefore, any brand that chooses to can label their product as “hormone free”.
Chickens are selectively bred to grow quickly with lots of muscle tissue and minimize the amount of inputs that the farmer must put into raising them.
According to the National Chicken Council, less than 1 percent of chickens raised worldwide are raised as ‘free range’. Those that are raised as free range must be able to go outside at least part of the day if they choose to. Many however, will choose to stay indoors, close to their source of food and water.
Too Much at Stake: What Can You Do?
Demand that companies stop the use of antibiotics in livestock feed (at least sub-therapeutically). Don’t buy poultry that is fed antibiotic feed.
If you don’t believe this is a serious problem, Kellogg Schwab, who is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Water and Health said (when sampling the manure lagoon of a typical farm) in the aforementioned “Farmacology”: “There were 10 million E. coli per liter [of sampled waste]. Ten million. And you have a hundred million liters in some of those pits. So you can have trillions of bacteria present, of which 89 percent are resistant to drugs. That’s a massive amount that in a rain event can contaminate the environment.”
Speaking as someone who works with farmers every day, I can attest that runoff from these lagoons and spills happen every single day. Also, many farmers use the same manure to fertilize their crops that we, in turn, eat. It’s not a matter of placing blame, it’s a matter of making responsible choices and advocating for change.