Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said hospitalizations caused by Salmonella put chicken in the "highest risk" category alongside with ground beef.
Clostridium and norovirus also caused outbreaks associated with chicken, while campylobacter bacteria was also believed to cause a large number of individual illnesses associated with chicken but rarely caused outbreaks, DeWaal said.
"Outbreaks from ground beef and chicken were reported frequently, and all too often caused debilitating illnesses -- illnesses that led to hospitalization," DeWaal said in a statement. "For example, approximately a quarter of those who were sickened by Salmonella would go to the hospital. The hospitalization rate for E. coli infections was nearly 50 percent and for Listeria infections it is more than 90 percent."
Chicken nuggets, ham and sausage pose the lowest risk of food-borne illness, DeWaal said.
The report, "Risky Meat: A Field Guide to Meat & Poultry Safety," also found meat of high risk included steak and other forms of beef, but excluded roast beef, which was of medium risk. Also of high risk was turkey, often from leaving cooked turkey on the counter too long.
Medium risk meat included barbecue, deli meat, pork -- excluding ham and sausage -- and roast beef.
The CSPI stressed the analysis only assessed food safety risk and did not address nutrition or the healthiness of the meat.
"U.S. meat and poultry companies produce 90 billion pounds of meat and poultry products a year and 99.99 percent of these are consumed safely," James H. Hodges, president of the American Meat Institute Foundation said in a statement.
A new and thorough report from the CSPI focuses only on meat and poultry. A broader examination of the total food supply could have delivered a more meaningful examination of food safety risk from our normal diets and would have shown that we have a meat and poultry supply that delivers consistently safe eating experiences, Hodges said.
In fact, when CSPI looked more broadly at the food supply in the outbreak analysis they released last month, they noted declines in foodborne outbreaks related to E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens of more than 40 percent, Hodges said.
"Better food safety practices, notably the adoption of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points programs in the meat, poultry, and seafood industries, might have contributed to the decline," CSPI wrote, Hodges said.
Hazard analysis and critical control points is a systematic preventive approach to food safety and allergenic, chemical, and biological hazards in production processes that can cause the finished product to be unsafe, and designs measurements to reduce these risks to a safe level.
"We do agree with CSPI's perspective that better food attribution data is needed to understand the causes of food-borne illnesses and potential strategies for improvement," Hodges said.
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