Chicken consumption is on the rise every year. It is the most popular meat due to its low price and the fact that it’s a low fat source of protein. It is recommended as a healthy alternative to red meat. Although eaten almost daily by many, there are some lurking dangers you probably don’t know about chicken meat that could literally make you sick.
You are eating feces with chicken meat
Chicken meat sold in supermarkets is bathed in so called fecal soup. Unfortunately it’s exactly what you imagine – a pool of water with feces inside. As a result chicken meat is very often contaminated with feces and harmful bacteria like E. coli.
Chickens held on poultry farms have very little room to move so they defecate on each other and themselves. In this condition they are transported to slaughter. After slaughtering the feathers from chickens are removed in scalding tanks where the feces from the feathers mixes with the water and other birds. That’s only the first station where feces contamination takes place in the production line. After scalding the intestines of the chickens are scooped out. The insides of the chickens are still full of food and feces and can become torn while they are removed form the dead bird. The content of the intestines can come in contact with the machine and the meat, contaminating the birds a second time. Since it’s nothing unusual to process 30.000 chickens/hour the birds are sometimes even left with their whole intestines inside.
At this phase of the production the birds are still warm. The chickens are chilled in tanks with cold water for up to an hour. That’s where the main contamination with feces takes place. Feces left on the meat from the disemboweling process mixes with the water in the tank, contaminating all the other birds with possible harmful bacteria and bird poo. That’s why it’s called the fecal soup.
In a Consumer Reports investigation 316 chicken breasts from major national grocery chains, big-box stores and regional markets in 26 states were bought and tested for six bacteria. 65% of the samples tested positive for E.coli a typical measure for fecal contamination. Other investigations show even higher percentages for fecal contamination of chicken breasts.
The disturbing part is that the industry doesn’t seem to care since the chicken from the fecal soup gets sold with the liquid. Producers can sell you retained water from the chilling process with the meat. It’s not unusual to have 8-12 % retained water that is sold to you as meat making the practice of bathing chicken in fecal soup quite lucrative and not likely to stop.
You are eating toxic chemicals with chicken meat
Because of the the filthy conditions in which chickens are raised and the leakage of intestines that happens during the production process, chicken meat is soaked and washed with toxic chemicals that are left on the finished product and sold to consumers. Attempting to avoid contamination and make the meat microbiologically safe, chicken meat is treated with trisodium phosphate, chlorinated water, acidified sodium chlorite or peracetic acid all left on the meat after production. These chemicals are highly toxic and can contribute to cancer and other diseases.
Poisoning with arsenic through chicken meat
A study in 2006 found that 55% of fresh chicken from supermarkets contained arsenic, which is known to cause cancer in humans. Arsenic is added to chicken food because it promotes growth and gives the meat a nice pink color. A study from Johns Hopkins University in 2011 confirmed these findings, testing chicken meat positive for inorganic arsenic.
Since then the main producer Pfizer has stopped marketing the drug 3-Nitro (Roxarsone) in the US that was fed to the chickens causing inorganic arsenic build up in chicken meat and liver. The FDA has officially banned this drug in 2013 along with two other arsenic containing drugs. There is one arsenic-based drug left that is approved for meat production.
Still, arsenic-based drugs for meat production are not officially banned in the US and there are no maximum safe levels declared. Arsenic based drugs have been used by poultry producers for decades and it’s now their own decision if they are going to resume the practice of using arsenic in their production.
Arsenic is a highly toxic, cancer-causing chemical that can kill you if taken in high doses. Up to 2011 more than 70% of broilers (chicken raised for meat) in the US were fed arsenic! After intense pressure from the public and experts arsenic use has been decreased in poultry production, but no new studies exist to confirm the current status of arsenic use in chicken meat production.
You are eating Godzilla baby chicks
Chicken raised for meat production are called broilers. The normal life span of a chicken is 10-15 years. A broiler lives just 42 days before slaughter and is bigger and heavier than an adult organic raised chicken. This is accomplished by selective breeding. During many generations, chickens were bred to produce the most meat with as little as possible food consumption. That way chicken become bigger in only a fraction of a time, for less money than free range chicken. Unfortunately the chickens heart, lungs, liver and skeleton are not able to support the over sized muscles making them unable to move, often lying down most of the time. Many of them collapse and die from this kind of overproduction.
Even when the chickens make it to the slaughter house they are sick birds in pain. The meat is often infected with Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and other bacteria. You are sold meat from very sick chicks pumped up to be bigger than the adult version of a chicken. How healthy can it be to consume meat from sick chicks that are barely alive when it is time to slaughter them?
You are consuming drugs with the meat
To prevent serious diseases among chicken flocks in the short period of 42 days every chick gets at least 4 vaccines and different antibiotics. These amounts of drugs can not all be degraded in the short life of a chicken broiler. That way lot of it ends up in the meat and in your plate. You’re eating those medications, including the antibiotics, with the meat of the chicken.
Every chicken gets at least 4 vaccines in 42 days. 42 days is how long broiler chickens live before slaughter.
Chickens have been pumped up with drugs that much that they have become resistant to many drugs. Less and less drugs can be used efffectively to fight against common bacteria found in chickens like E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter or Enterococcus. This resistance to medication is a problem because chicken meat has become the most unsafe meat from a microbilological point of view. Poultry products are the main source of foodborne illness in people.
This kind of drug overuse takes its toll on your health as well, making you more resistant to common antibiotics. Eating over medicated chicken meat makes you more susceptible to get infected with any of the common bacteria found in chicken meat and more and more resistant to antibiotics that fight those bacteria.
What you can do about it
With a yearly consumption of 83 pounds per person, chicken is the favorite meat of the US consumer. So what can you do if you want to enjoy your chicken but be on the safe side? Here are some suggestions that will help you stay healthy:
- Cook chicken at 165 °F. Get a meat thermometer to be sure that the meat is cooked at this temperature. This way you’ll be sure to destroy all of the dangerous bacteria. This is most important and the only thing guaranteed to destroy all bacteria.
- Keep chicken away from other food when you purchase it in a separate plastic bag to avoid contamination. Keep it in a separate bag in the fridge and freezer as well.
- Prepare the meat on cutting boards that you use only for chicken meat. Wash them after every use. Also wash all utensils that came in contact with the raw chicken, including knives, plates, bowls, … Don’t forget to wash your hands as well before you touch something else!
- Don’t wash fresh chicken to get rid of the contaminants. That way you’re only spreading the bacteria to surfaces that probably won’t get washed immediately (sink, clothes, …).
- Refrigerate poultry under 40 °F to be sure the harmful bacteria is not spreading.
Photo credit: meat thermometer by usdagov