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Consumer Reports Tests Chickens For Harmful Bacteria
By Julie Stewart
Food poisoning is more common than you might think. And often the culprit is chicken -- either it's not thoroughly cooked, or juices from raw chicken contaminate other food. Our partner Consumer Reports tested nearly 500 whole chickens to see if they contain the most common types of bacteria that can make us sick. Julie Stewart has the results.
Bob Quinn loves chicken, but he's one of more than a million Americans a year who has gotten sick from eating poultry contaminated with harmful bacteria. "If there is bad food around, I'll be the one who gets sick," he jokes.
Consumer Reports' chief medical advisor, Dr. Marvin Lipman, says two types of bacteria are some of the most likely to cause food poisoning -- salmonella and campylobacter. And it only takes a little.
"It doesn't take much exposure to either of them to cause severe intestinal problems. And campylobacter can cause serious complications, such as meningitis, arthritis and a disabling neurological condition called the guillain-barre syndrome."
To see if the chicken you buy could be harboring either of these bacteria, Consumer Reports tested nearly 500 fresh broilers from 29 brands nationwide. Of those, Lipman says "nearly half of the chickens we tested were contaminated with either salmonella, campylobacter or both."
Then Consumer Reports tested the bacteria and in a number of cases found resistance to common antibiotics, including tetracycline, erythromycin, as well as cipro and floxin.
"If you become ill with an organism that's resistant to the usual drug of choice, then your doctor has to choose an alternative medication," Lipman says, "which might be not as easy to take and might be not as good."
To help protect yourself, Consumer Reports says to do what the Quinns do and thoroughly cook chicken. Whole chickens should reach 180 degrees; chicken breasts should be get as hot as 170 degrees. That should kill any harmful bacteria that may be present.
There are other steps you can take to reduce risks of food poisoning. Always keep chicken cool. In fact, you might want to make it the last thing you put in your cart at the store. If you won't be cooking it within a couple of days, freeze it. Then, to thaw the chicken, leave it on a plate in the refrigerator instead of on the counter.
And when you prepare chicken, wash everything that comes in contact with it with hot, soapy water.
Online Reporter: Julie Stewart
Online Producer: Michael Dever
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