WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture here downplayed a study by Consumer Reports that showed 83% of chicken sold in supermarkets may contain bacteria that's dangerous to human health.
Consumer Reports, after testing 525 chickens, found that most contained campylobacter or salmonella, two of the leading causes of foodborne illnesses.
“We want to be cautious about drawing any conclusions from a sample that's so small,” said Steven Cohen, spokesman for the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. “For example, as a part of our inspection program, we collected and analyzed 9,500 samples in 2005, but we wouldn't represent those as being a scientific study, nor would we say that that yields any information about the prevalence of salmonella in the 8 billion chickens that were processed in 2005.”
Campylobacter was found in 81% of the chickens tested, up from 42% in 2003, and salmonella was estimated at 15%, up from 3% in 2003, according to Consumer Reports.
Campylobacter can be carried by birds without affecting them, but causes diarrhea in people. Salmonella also causes diarrhea, as well as headache and fever.
“We recommend cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees,” Cohen said. “That minimum temperature will eliminate all foodborne threats.”