97 percent of chicken carries bacteria that could make you sick

Emilian Robert Vicol/CC BY 2.0

Researchers at Consumer Reports found almost all grocery store chicken sold in the U.S. is contaminated with bacteria that can potentially make you sick, and that roughly half of all chicken has bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

Consumer Reports purchased 316 chicken breasts from grocery stores across the country. Researchers found little difference between brands or grocery stores, and organic chicken was no less likely to be contaminated.

"We spend a lot of time doing a full-market survey, so that we can get a grasp of what's available," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and Executive Director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

The test shoppers even bought chicken contaminated with the strain of salmonella responsible for making 389 people sick in this past summer.

What You Can Do

1. Try not to touch the package with your hands.
"Bacteria can hang out on the outside of the package," Dr. Rangan told TreeHugger. Instead of using bare hands, grab the package with a plastic bag and keep it separated from your other groceries.

2. Use a designated cutting board and utensils for preparing uncooked chicken.
Cross-contamination in the kitchen can easily lead to illness. When you're done prepping, wash these utensils and your hands immediately. Dr. Rangan also reminded us that anti-bacterial soap isn't any better at preventing illness than regular dish soap and water.

3. Get a meat thermometer.
According to a consumer survey, just 30 percent of consumers report using a thermometer, but 82 percent think they cook chicken to an internal temperature of 165˚F to kill bacteria. "You can't know unless you have the thermometer," said Dr. Rangan.

The Consumer Reports research focuses on grocery store chicken, but Dr. Rangan recommends that people shopping at the farmers market exercise the same caution.

The full report is available in the February 2014 issue of Consumer Reports and online here.

Tags: Antibiotics | Food Safety

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