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Consumer Reports: What you need to know about bacteria on your chicken

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Posted at 8:53 AM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 09:53:45-04

(CONSUMER REPORTS/WTVF)  — So what's for dinner tonight? The odds are pretty good that you've got some chicken in your fridge or freezer. But you may be surprised to hear what could be on that chicken and that's it's perfectly legal.

You buy a package of chicken to feed your family, and you think it's safe -- but did you know that poultry processors are allowed to knowingly sell chicken that may be contaminated with potentially deadly bacteria? So, now that you know: What can you do about it?

Preparing a chicken dinner for your family, it’s a favorite for many, but it can be a bit stressful.

“Bacteria like salmonella and campylobacter, which are often in raw or undercooked chicken and turkey, are two of the leading causes of bacterial foodborne illness in people,” said Rachel Rabkin Peachman, Consumer Reports’ Investigative Reporter.

Together, those two bacteria kill about 450 people each year and make nearly 1.9 million people sick, with 28,000 ending up in the hospital.

And what’s even more alarming? “Poultry processors can legally distribute their products even if they know they may contain harmful bacteria,” said Peachman.

In fact, the USDA allows 9.8% of the whole chickens it tests to be contaminated with salmonella. And when you look at chicken parts and ground chicken, the percentages are even higher.

The USDA says it set those standards based on “a risk-assessment process that estimates the salmonella and campylobacter percentages needed to meet national public health goals."

The National Chicken Council, an industry trade group, says about 90% of chicken processing plants are “meeting and exceeding” present USDA standards for salmonella on whole chickens and chicken parts.

But Consumer Reports and other food safety advocates say that is still not enough, and that the USDA should strive for a zero-tolerance policy.

So, how can you make sure your family chicken dinner doesn’t make anyone sick? Use an accurate meat thermometer to make sure your poultry is thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 165-degrees Fahrenheit.

And if your chicken is frozen, don't just leave it out on the counter. You want to always thaw it in the fridge. Also, they say you should never wash your poultry in the sink because that can spread the bacteria in your kitchen, and whenever you handle raw chicken, make sure you wash your hands before you touch anything else.