WASHINGTON — “The bottom line for consumers is that all chicken is safe to eat when properly handled and cooked,” states Dr. Ashley Peterson, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the National Chicken Council. “Consumers can continue to feel confident about including chicken as a lean, low-fat and high-protein part of a healthy, balanced diet,”
Peterson was responding to a report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest which claimed that ground beef and chicken are the riskiest meat and poultry products in the U.S. food supply and pose the greatest likelihood of hospitalization.
“Rigorous food safety standards are applied to all chicken produced in the United States, and all chicken products must meet or exceed these safety standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety & Inspection Service in order to reach consumers,” said Peterson.
“The bottom line for consumers is that all chicken is safe to eat when properly handled and cooked,” she said. “Consumers can continue to feel confident about including chicken as a lean, low-fat and high-protein part of a healthy, balanced diet.”
The CSPI report — Risky Meat: A Field Guide to Meat & Poultry Safety — ranks 12 categories of meat and poultry based on outbreak reports and the likelihood of hospitalizations associated with the pathogens most commonly reported in those foods. According to the report, ground beef and chicken were responsible for the largest number of outbreaks and cases of illnesses. Chicken nuggets, ham and sausage pose the lowest risk of foodborne illness.
NCC noted that the poultry industry takes very seriously any human illness attributed to the consumption of a poultry product. Poultry companies have invested tens of millions of dollars in technology and other scientifically validated measures to enhance the safety profile of chicken products. Continuous inspection and testing by USDA has demonstrated the long-term success of these interventions in providing a safe, wholesome and affordable protein for consumers.
Also commenting on the CSPI report was the American Meat Institute Foundation Foundation President James H. Hodges, who pointed out that the “U.S. meat and poultry companies produce 90 billion pounds of meat and poultry products a year and 99.99 percent of these are consumed safely.
The report, Hodges said, “focuses only on the meat and poultry category. A broader examination of the total food supply could have delivered a more meaningful examination of food safety risk from our normal diets and would have shown that we have a meat and poultry supply that delivers consistently safe eating experiences.”
Peterson added, “In an effort to continue our progress towards reducing foodborne illnesses, we believe that the poultry inspection system should be modernized to transition to a model that is more science and risk-based.”
Peterson noted that from 2001 to 2010, the latest 10-year period for which data are available, outbreaks related to E. coli, salmonella and other dangerous pathogens decreased by more than 40 percent, according to CSPI’s own analysis. Additionally, CSPI clearly states that the illness data they use represent only a “small fraction of likely cases,” thereby biasing their data set from the start. Scientifically, if a complete data set were used and evaluated instead of evaluating only hand-selected data, the results would be quite different.
Over the past several years, most instances of salmonella outbreaks have been related to melons, lettuce, salads, fruit, sprouts, tomatoes or other fresh produce, according to U.S. government data. “That is why it is an important reminder that all raw agricultural products — whether its produce, fruit, meat or poultry — could contain bacteria that might make someone sick,” Peterson said.
The chicken council emphasized that it is always important to consistently follow safe food handling and cooking practices.
“Instructions for safe handling and cooking are printed on every package of meat and poultry sold in the United States — when followed, one can be assured of a safe eating experience every time,” Peterson stated.