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Chicken: Food Poisoning’s Most Common Source

Posted in Food Safety on November 15, 2018

According to the National Chicken Council (yes, there is a National Chicken Council, they are the national trade association for chicken producers and processors), “Chicken is the leanest, most versatile and most affordable protein out there.” In fact, the CDC says that Americans eat more chicken every year than any other meat. Per capita, chicken consumption in the US has increased almost every year since the 1960s. Easy to believe as soon as you think about how many children would gladly live on chicken nuggets and ketchup alone. Throughout the ages, chickens are small, relatively easy to house and raise, and can be baked, roasted, fried, grilled, or even boiled. A huge array of cultures offer mouth watering chicken dishes for the culinarily adventurous to experiment with. Chicken food poisoning can be a real concern.

Chicken is nutritious, affordable, and versatile, but it can also carry harmful bacteria if improperly handled or preserved at any point in its journey from bird to plate. Since it is the most common meat, it is also the most common source of food poisoning, according to Boomberg. The most common bacteria are CampylobacterSalmonella and Clostridium perfringens. In fact, just this October the CDC announced an investigation linked to raw chicken products and salmonella.

The top five germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the United States are:

  • Norovirus
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)

Less common, but also awful:

  • Clostridium botulinum (botulism)
  • Listeria
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Vibrio

For most healthy people, food poisoning is a short and wildly unpleasant experience with diarrhea and vomiting. However, for the elderly, the very young, pregnant woman or immunocompromised people, the risks are much, much greater. Some diseases, including salmonella and listeria, can even lead to death. There are other potential serious long-term consequences to food poisoning, including kidney failure, chronic arthritis, and brain and nerve damage.

Recognizing Food Poisoning

Food poisoning symptoms vary, but most include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Watery or bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Fever

Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating contaminated food. However, sometimes they begin days or even weeks later. If symptoms persist or progress as described below, go see a doctor immediately.

  • Frequent episodes of vomiting. Inability to keep liquids down
  • Bloody vomit or stools
  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
  • An oral temperature higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
  • Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms.

For more detailed information, Foodsafety.org has a fantastically terrifying chart of the various bacterium of food poisoning and the symptoms which accompany their infection. We strongly recommend that you go see a doctor for actual diagnosis.

What you can do

The FDA, the USDA, and Foodsafety.gov have some great information to help us take care of our families and prevent food born illness. Keep in mind the danger zone, or “preferred bacteria habitat temperature” is 40 degrees-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the cost of some forethought when shopping, a good meat thermometer, dish soap and a sponge, you can protect your family from ever going through the misery and risk of food poisoning.

It Starts Safe Shopping

  • When you grocery shop, pick up eggs and raw meats last.
  • Keep meats in a separate part of the cart from your produce and dry goods.
  • Make sure to put food in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours of removing from the cooler at the store. If it is 90°F or hotter outside, make that 1 hour.
  • Bring a cooler or cooler bag with ice packs if you know or think you might run into delays. Better safe than sorry.
  • Look at the sell by dates, and do not buy meat that is discolored, fuzzy, or smelly.

Safe Food Preparation

The FDA distills everything you need to know about safe food prep down to four words: Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

  • Make sure to wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after touching food. Imagine instead of raw chicken juice, you’d spilled glitter on your hands. It takes more than a quick splash of water to get the glitter off, and that glitter gets everywhere and sticks everywhere until you get it off your hands.
  • Wash your cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water after working with food.
  • Wash counter tops and sinks before and after handling raw meat to remove the possibility of splatter contamination.
  • Do not rinse chicken, as this only spreads raw chicken around the kitchen and does nothing to remove bacteria from the raw meat. Only cooking will ensure the meat is safe.

Even when shopping, keep your raw meat and eggs separate from your produce and dry goods. In the cart. In the bags. In the refrigerator at home.

Have designated meat cutting boards. Do not use these for produce.

Follow the safety guidelines for meat internal temperatures, using a meat thermometer so you can know for sure:

Turkey, Chicken, and Duck is 165 °F

  • Beef, Pork, Lamb 145 °F
  • Fish 145 °F
  • Ground Beef, Pork, Lamb 160 °F
  • Turkey, Chicken, Duck 165 °F

Make sure to put food in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours of cooking. If it is 90°F or hotter outside, make that 1 hour.

When thawing or marinating, keep food in the fridge. You can also thaw under cold water or in the microwave.

Additional steps

Knowledge is power. Pay attention to food recalls and take the time to look at your stock to see if you have purchased recalled items. Follow the instructions for disposal or return of the potentially contaminated products. Know who is at risk and be extra careful when preparing food for them. Bacteria, like so many other illnesses, prey on the weak among us. Young children, older adults, and anyone whose immune system is ravaged by chronic illness of any sort. Also, anyone on medications which reduce stomach acid is at a higher risk of contracting a food born illness.

By: Abigail Cossette Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)