Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey: Deadly But Not Illegal


“Salmonella in Chicken & Turkey:
Deadly but Not Illegal When researchers last year at
the Emerging Pathogens Institute ranked foodborne pathogens to
figure out which was the worst, #1 on their list was Salmonella— ranked the food-poisoning bacteria
with the greatest public health burden on our country, the leading cause of
food-poisoning-related hospitalization, and the #1 cause of food-
poisoning-related death. Where do you get it from? Well, I’ve talked about
the threat of eggs. According to the FDA,
142,000 Americans are sickened every year by eggs
contaminated with Salmonella. That’s an egg-borne epidemic every year. But, Salmonella in eggs was only ranked
the #10 worst pathogen food combination. Salmonella in poultry ranks even worse— the #4 worst-infected food
in the United States, in terms of both cost, and
quality-adjusted years of life lost. In terms of the burden
of human Salmonella poisoning attributable to various U.S. foods, eating chicken may be eight
times riskier than eating eggs. Due to strengthening
of food safety regulations under the Clinton administration, the number of Americans food-poisoned
by chicken every year dropped from about 390,000 a year to 200,000, and rightly
hailed as a significant accomplishment. So, now, eating chicken only sicken
about 200,000 people in the U.S. every year. But, isn’t that a bit like some toy
company boasting that they’ve reduced the amount of lead in their toys,
and so, are now poisoning 40% fewer kids. Not exactly something to boast about. And the numbers have since
rebounded back upwards. In the late 90s, human Salmonella cases
have increased by 44% since then. The rebound in incidence of Salmonella
infection in the United States is likely a result of several factors. But, one important risk factor
singled out is eating chicken, as the proportion of chicken carrying
Salmonella infection has increased. When people think manure in meat,
they typically think ground beef. But, when you look at E. coli levels
in meat, which “is considered an indicator of fecal contamination,” sure, there’s fecal matter in about
two-thirds of American beef. But, that number is greater than
80% fecal contamination in poultry— chicken and turkey. Why have we seen a decrease
in the Jack in the Box E. coli o157, but not chicken-borne Salmonella? In the last decade or so, the infection
of beef, and subsequently children, have dropped, like 30%. But not only has Salmonella
not declined in the past fifteen years, it’s actually increased lately. One reason is that there was a
prohibition of contamination with the deadly E. coli in beef. What a concept! So, selling contaminated beef is illegal. Why is beef laced with E. coli-
contaminated fecal matter considered adulterated, but chicken laced with salmonella-
contaminated fecal matter A-OK? It certainly kills more people
than the banned E.coli. It all goes back to a famous case in 1974, when the American Public Health
Association sued the USDA, saying, wait a second— you can’t put a stamp of approval for
wholesomeness on meat contaminated with Salmonella. What could the USDA possibly
say in meat’s defense? As relayed by the Circuit judge, the USDA pointed out that there have
been Salmonella outbreaks linked to dairy and eggs, for example, too. So, since “there are numerous sources
of contamination which might contribute to the overall problem,” it would
be “unjustified to single out the meat industry and ask that the
Department require it to identify its raw products as being
hazardous to health.” That’s like the tuna industry arguing ah, there’s no need to label cans
of tuna with mercury levels, because you could also get
exposed eating thermometers. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals
upheld the meat industry position, arguing that you can allow potentially
deadly salmonella in meat because, and I quote, “American housewives are…
normally not ignorant or stupid and their methods of preparing and cooking
of food do not ordinarily result in [Salmonella food poisoning].” What? That’s like saying, oh, minivans
don’t need seat belts in the back seat, because, you know, soccer moms
don’t ordinarily crash into things. Now, 39 years later, 200,000 Americans,
sickened every year by Salmonella that continues to be
legally allowed in chicken.

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