Poultry bacteria study is inaccurate: USDA

05-12-2006 | |

A study by Consumer Reports in the US indicates that eighty-three percent of chicken sold in US grocery stores may contain bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), however, says the study was flawed.

Consumer Reports says that the result is 34 percentage points higher than the rate it found three years ago.
A USDA spokesman called the report “junk science”.
Consumer Reports said tests on 525 chickens showed most of the poultry had campylobacter or salmonella, two of the leading causes of food-borne diseases. The testing was carried out on samples from leading brands including Perdue, Pilgrim’s Pride and Tyson Foods.
“We think it’s really startling,” said Jane Halloran, a policy director for Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports. “It’s a very significant deterioration in food safety.”
A spokesman with the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said the study was riddled with flaws.
One major criticism was the study’s small sample size. “There is virtually nothing or any conclusion that anyone could draw from 500 samples,” said Steven Cohen, spokesman for the agency. “They’re passing along junk science and calling it an investigation.”
Cohen said 11.4 percent of 8,000 broiler samples taken up until September of this year tested positive for salmonella, which would mean a decrease from 16.3 percent in 2005 if that level is maintained for the rest of the year.
Cohen said the report did not go back to all the stores used in the 2003 report, which means that the data comparison is not reliable.
The department has not carried out a national prevalence study for campylobacter in broilers, but plans to begin conducting one in late January.