retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The January 2010 issue of Consumer Reports has a story saying that its “latest test of fresh, whole broilers bought in 22 states reveals that two-thirds of birds tested harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of food-borne disease ... The recent test shows a modest improvement since January 2007, when the magazine found these pathogens in 8 of 10 broilers, but the numbers are still far too high. The findings suggest that most companies’ safeguards are inadequate. Consumer Reports also found that most disease-causing bacteria sampled from the contaminated chicken were resistant to at least one antibiotic, potentially making any resulting illness more difficult to treat.”

The story says that “campylobacter was in 62 percent of the chickens, salmonella was in 14 percent, and both bacteria were in 9 percent. Only 34 percent of the birds were clear of both pathogens. That’s double the percentage of clean birds Consumer Reports found in its 2007 report but far less than the 51 percent in the 2003 report.”

And, the report goes on: “Perdue was found to be the cleanest of the brand-name chicken: 56 percent were free of both pathogens. This is the first time since Consumer Reports began testing chicken that one major brand has fared significantly better than others across the board ... Tyson and Foster Farms chickens were found to be the most contaminated; less than 20 percent were free of either pathogens ... Store-brand organic chickens had no salmonella at all, but only 43 percent of those birds were also free of campylobacter.”

“USDA has been pondering new standards to cut the prevalence of bacteria in chicken for more than five years but has yet to act,” says Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “Consumers shouldn’t have to play roulette with poultry; the USDA must make chicken less risky to eat.”
KC's View:
That sound you hear is consumer confidence in the food system being eroded just a little bit more.