Most Chicken Harbors Harmful Bacteria
83% of Chickens Tested for Consumer Reports Had 1 of 2 Sickening Bacteria
Dec. 4, 2006 -- Even if you go for the more expensive organic or
antibiotic-free chicken, the chicken you buy at the grocery store probably
contains bacteria that can make you sick.
But safe handling and proper cooking can reduce the risk.
A startling 83% of the chickens tested in a recent Consumer Reports
investigation were contaminated with one or both of the leading bacterial
causes of food-borne disease -- salmonella and campylobacter.
That is up from 49% in 2003, when the group last reported on contamination
However, the results are similar to the contamination found in 1997, when
almost three-fourths of the broilers Consumer Reports tested were
positive for salmonella or campylobacter.
In their new report, "Dirty Birds," investigators with Consumers
Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, concluded that paying more for a
chicken does not increase your chances of getting one free of illness-causing
"Overall, chickens labeled as organic or raised without antibiotics and
costing $3 to $5 per pound were more likely to harbor salmonella than were
conventionally produced broilers that cost more like $1 a pound," they
Jean Halloran of Consumers Union tells WebMD that fewer than one if five
birds tested (17%) were free of both pathogens, the lowest percentage of clean
birds recorded since the group began testing chickens eight years ago.
Antibiotic Resistance High
Investigators for the independent consumer group tested 525 whole broiler
chickens from leading brands like Perdue, Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride, and Foster
Farms, as well as organic and other brands raised without antibiotics.
The chickens were purchased at supermarkets, mass retailers, gourmet shops,
and natural food stores in 23 states last spring.
Among the findings:
- 15% of chickens tested were contaminated with salmonella, compared to the
12% reported by Consumers Union in 2003.
- 81% harbored campylobacter, up from 42% in 2003. This bug is the main
identified cause of bacterial diarrhea illness in the
- 13% of chickens were contaminated with both bacteria, up from 5% in
- 84% of the salmonella organisms analyzed and 67% of the campylobacter were
resistant to one or more antibiotics. In the 2003 report, 34% of the salmonella
and 90% of campylobacter were resistant.
"The problem of antibiotic resistance is related to both the widespread
use of antibiotics in animal feed to promote growth and the widespread use in
humans," Halloran says.
Major brands tested did not show better results than smaller brands,
overall, based on tests of 78 chickens from each brand.
Among major brands, salmonella contamination ranged from a low of 3% in
Foster Farms chickens to a high of 17% in chickens processed by Perdue.
But Perdue had the lowest level of campylobacter-contaminated chickens, with
74%; Tyson had the highest, at 89%.