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Tom Super Headshot

On Chicken & Food Safety

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While I certainly respect Bruce Friedrich's choice to live a vegan lifestyle, those who choose to eat meat or poultry deserve more accurate information when making dietary decisions than the claims cited by Friedrich in his recent post (Outraged by Pink Slime? Actually, Chicken Could Be a Much Bigger Risk, 11/19).

All chicken produced in the United States is closely monitored and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). Rigorous food safety standards are applied to all chicken products and these products must meet or exceed these safety standards set forth by FSIS in order to reach consumers.

Chicken processing plants use many scientifically validated measures to protect food from contamination and to reduce bacteria levels at dozens of different points during the entire production process. Chicken plants also strictly adhere to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's zero tolerance policy for visible fecal material as a food safety standard.

As Mr. Friedrich points out, the University of Arizona did conduct a study 15 years ago that tested 14 household sites and found the highest concentrations of bacteria on places that were moist environments and/or were frequently touched; these included the sponge/dishcloth, the kitchen sink drain area, the bath sink drain area and the kitchen faucet handle(s).

Nowhere in this study is chicken singled out as the cause of the bacteria present.

Not really a big surprise that wet areas and those frequently touched harbored the most bacteria.

This same study also concluded that, "The implementation of a cleaning regimen with common household hypochlorite (bleach) products resulted in the significant reduction of all three classes of bacteria at these four sites and other household sites."

Instead of trying to scare people away from eating chicken, what these findings should do is remind people that while it is very rare, all raw agricultural products -- whether it is lettuce, fruit, sprouts, tomatoes, meat or poultry -- have the potential to carry naturally occurring bacteria into the kitchen.

But, there are steps people can take to significantly reduce any risk. First, follow safe food handling practices like washing hands with soap and warm water and, as this study suggests, washing kitchen work surfaces, sinks, cutting boards, dishcloths and utensils thoroughly with disinfectants immediately after they have been in contact with any raw products. Second, proper cooking eliminates the risk of foodborne illness, which for chicken means cooking to an internal temperature of 165⁰ F.

Mr. Friedrich goes on to reference a new poultry inspection system proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would, in his words, "put the poultry industry in charge of monitoring itself." Nothing could be further from the truth.

For anyone who took the time to read Friedrich's post, I also encourage you to read this one, Setting the Record Straight on the Proposed Chicken Inspection Policy, posted earlier this year on The Huffington Post by FSIS Administrator Al Almanza.

The fact is the poultry industry has an excellent and well-documented food safety track record. Continuous inspection and testing by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has demonstrated ongoing improvements and the industry's commitment to providing a safe, nutritious and affordable protein for those consumers who choose to eat it.

And those who don't should not be sensationalizing studies to advance their agendas.

Tom Super serves as vice president of communications for the National Chicken Council, a trade association based in Washington, D.C., that represents America's chicken producers, and the 210,000 workers they directly employ, before the federal government, media and the public.

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