THE BLOG
11/25/2013 03:08 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2014

America Is Sick of Chicken

By Sari Kamin, HRN Staffer

Winner winner, chicken dinner? Not anymore. Chicken is the most consumed meat in the United States but it is literally making us sick.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interests, chicken was responsible for more foodborne illness, hospitalizations and deaths between and 1998 and 2010 than any other meat. Most recently, an outbreak of Salmonella Heidelberg has reportedly infected 362 people across 21 states. The source has been traced back to poultry that was processed at three Foster Farms plants in central California.

The USDA has not demanded a recall despite sending notification letters on October 7, which threatened to shut them down. The letters cited a "high frequency of Salmonella positives." Since January of this year, the USDA has cited Foster Farms 10 times for not complying with safety standards after inspectors found "fecal material on carcasses... poor sanitary dressing practices, unsanitary food contact surfaces, unsanitary nonfood contact surfaces and direct product contamination."

However, three days after they sent notification to Foster Farms, the USDA issued a statement saying "Foster Farms has submitted and implemented immediate, substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations.

This is the second outbreak of salmonella that Foster Farms is responsible for in the last 12 months. Their chicken is still being sold, and since October 30, 27 more people have become ill from consuming it. Louisiana and Illinois join the states that have already reported cases of the salmonella linked to Foster Farms chickens. We contacted the USDA, and despite the continued outbreaks, the agency stands behind their claim that all Foster Farms birds are safe to eat as long as they are cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit

Thanks, USDA. I guess it was our fault after all. Clearly it's not the way the way these chickens are being bred, or the unsanitary conditions they're being raised in, or the lack of space they have inside their sheds. It's not even the growth antibiotics they are given. It's us, because clearly we as consumers can't figure out how to properly cook a chicken coated with salmonella.

Ron Foster, CEO of Foster Farms, said in a statement, "It should be noted that while no illness is ever acceptable, the time period for this issue was over the course of six months from March to mid-September. During that time, more than 25 million consumers safely consumed Foster Farms chicken." That's perhaps fortuitous for them, but it doesn't negate the 300-plus people who have become ill thanks to their chickens. Not to mention that 40 percent of those inflicted had to be hospitalized. Luckily for Foster Farms, no deaths have been reported in the recent outbreak, but Mr. Foster shouldn't stop sweating yet.

Chicken, turkey and other poultry meats are responsible for more food-related deaths than any other food items. In the decade leading up to 2008, 19 percent of all foodborne fatalities were caused by consumption of contaminated poultry.

Not even our pets are safe from poultry related illness. The dog food company, Bailey's Choice, recently expanded its recall of chicken jerky dog treats due to concern over salmonella. It's one thing to expect salmonella in undercooked chicken, but are we supposed to be reheating our dogs' food, too?

Factory farm birds have become vessels for salmonella and other bacteria's because of the many factors and conditions they are bred and raised with. The typical factory farm bird has been bred to grow bigger and fatter than their bodies can support. Additional antibiotics they are treated with stimulate insatiable appetites that distract them from sleep. The results are too often unhealthy birds that lay in their own waste before ending up on peoples dinner plates. There are so many different factors that contribute to the sickness of conventional chickens that the problems of bacteria outbreaks cannot be fixed with band-aid inspections that do not consider the need for a holistic overhaul of the system.

Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director of the food safety and sustainability group at Consumer Reports, said in a press release "Humans don't consume antibiotics every day to prevent disease and neither should healthy animals."

Turkey is no less vulnerable to salmonella than chicken. Recent Consumer Reports testing found potentially dangerous bacteria in randomly tested ground turkey products sold across the United States. With Thanksgiving approaching, this is a great time to think about what you'll be eating on Turkey Day.

The most effective way to avoid salmonella (other than abstaining from eating poultry) is to know where your food is coming from. When choosing a chicken or a turkey to consume, it is imperative to consider its genetics, the conditions in which it was raised, what it was fed, and whether or not it was treated with antibiotics. Avoiding animals that were bred and raised on a factory farm is a step in the right direction.

Click here to listen to a recent episode of "No Chefs Allowed," featuring heritage turkey Farmer Frank Reese discussing today's industrialized poultry practices

*The previous version of this article stated: "This is the second outbreak of Salmonella that Foster Farms is responsible for in the last 12 months and yet their contaminated chicken is still being sold."

Per request of Fineman PR agency, who contacted us on behalf of Foster Farms, we correct as follows: "This is the second outbreak of Salmonella that Foster Farms is responsible for in the last 12 months. Their chicken is still being sold, and since October 30, 27 more people have become ill from consuming it. Louisiana and Illinois join the states that have already reported cases of the salmonella linked to Foster Farms chickens. We contacted the USDA, and despite the continued outbreaks, the agency stands behind their claim that all Foster Farms birds are safe to eat as long as they are cooked to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit."