In the report, titled “The High Cost of Cheap Chicken,” researchers also found that chicken labeled "organic" or "antibiotic free" was just as likely to contain contaminated bacteria. Samples were gleaned from local grocery stores, chains and big box stores located in 26 states. They also tested a variety of brands and unlabeled chicken.
Nearly half of the samples (49.7%) tested positively for at least one kind of bacterium resistant to three or more types of antibiotics.
“The legitimate fear is that the antibiotics we use for human infections are going to be compromised by the use in food animals,” food safety epidemiologist Dr. Maurice Pitesky told Food Safety News. “But we need to separate that from antibiotic resistance that might just be natural or insignificant.”
Consumer Reports joined other consumer rights groups in urging the Food and Drug Administration to eliminate the use of antibiotics in meat products. Last week, the FDA released guidelines recommending that farmers limit their use, though critics say the measure doesn't go far enough.
Cooking the chicken breast to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill most of the bacteria, though most food-borne illnesses are contracted during the preparation process -- touching utensils without washing your hands first, for example.
Food Safety News notes that while "only some" of the bacteria found in such amounts on the chicken could actually cause food poisoning, "they do indicate widespread fecal contamination of chicken meat. They are also capable of causing infections of the skin, blood and urinary tract if presented an opportunity."
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[Consumer Reports, Food Safety News]