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Chicken Tainted by Feces

Illustration Doug Hall/PCRM



Nearly Half of Chicken Products Tainted by Feces

Nearly half the chicken products in supermarkets are contaminated with feces, according to a PCRM report based on independent laboratory tests of samples from 15 grocery store chains in 10 U.S. cities.

Testing revealed that 48 percent of the chicken samples had fecal contamination, indicated by the presence of E. coli, a bacterium commonly found in chicken dung. E. coli is an indicator used by slaughter and processing plants to check for fecal contamination of food products and water.

The study investigated chickens from Perdue, Pilgrim’s, and Sanderson Farms, as well as 22 other popular brands. Chicken samples from every city and every grocery store chain tested positive for fecal contamination. Skinless chicken breast was particularly likely to have fecal traces, and both “organically produced” and “conventional” products were frequently contaminated.

Chicken feces can harbor round worms, hair worms, tape worms, bilirubin, and other digestive products, chemicals and drugs excreted by the liver, and leftover food, as well as the remains of insects and larvae ingested by the chicken. While thorough cooking kills bacteria, it does not eliminate feces—it simply cooks it.

Intestinal contents can spread from bird to bird as intestines are torn out of the carcasses. When the carcasses go through a water bath, the feces tend to mix together in what has been called “fecal soup.”

Carol Tucker Foreman, the former undersecretary of agriculture, described why chicken producers do not want to stop using the water bath system: “Chickens are very absorbent animals. When you put them into the water bath to chill them, they gain a little weight. Since chicken is sold by the pound, over a period of time it’s a substantial financial difference to the company. The average broiler is about four pounds. If you can add a quarter of a pound or an eighth of a pound in water pick-up, that’s very important to the economics of the industry.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires chicken producers to sample only one in every 22,000 carcasses. So consumers have no way to know what they are eating. One carcass may be relatively clean, and the next one could be soaked with liquefied feces.

While consumers might object to buying a spongy carcass permeated with “fecal soup,” the public health message is an important one. PCRM president Neal Barnard, M.D., says, “People who still eat chicken despite the fat, cholesterol, and salmonella might be put off by the realization they are eating cooked dung in about half the chicken products they buy.”

Fecal Contamination of Chicken Products in 10 U.S. Cities

City

Grocery Store

Chicken Products with Fecal Contamination

Charleston, S.C.

Harris Teeter

33%

Publix

33%

Chicago, Ill.

Dominick’s

33%

Jewel-Osco

67%

Dallas, Texas

Albertsons

33%

Kroger

100%

Denver, Colo.

Albertsons

50%

Safeway

67%

Houston, Texas

H-E-B

17%

Randalls

17%

Miami, Fla.

Publix

50%

Winn-Dixie

83%

Milwaukee, Wis.

Pic ‘n Save

17%

Piggly Wiggly

50%

Phoenix, Ariz.

Fry’s

50%

Safeway

0%*

San Diego, Calif.

Albertsons

17%

Ralphs

83%

Washington, D.C.

Giant

83%

Safeway

67%

* Indicates a store where retesting was performed; retesting found that 60 percent of the samples were positive for fecal contamination. 

Read the complete report at PCRM.org/ChickenFeces.
 



Read the complete report at PCRM.org/ChickenFeces.


Good Medicine: Humanizing Medical Education

Good Medicine
Summer 2012
Vol. XXI, No. 3

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Good Medicine
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Phone: 202-686-2210     Email: pcrm@pcrm.org