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Popular brands of chicken tested for bacteria

November 30, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
New tests find disease-causing bacteria in some of the biggest brands that produce chicken.Alexis Sarti was a cross-country runner in high school. But four years ago, she suffered extensive nerve damage after eating at a California restaurant.

"I still have problems," said Sarti. "I'll never be able to run or walk very far."

Alexis sued the restaurant, alleging her food was cross-contaminated with bacteria from raw poultry.

Consumer Reports tested nearly 400 whole broiler chickens at an outside lab, checking for contamination. The chickens were purchased at more than 100 stores across the country.

"We tested for the two leading causes of food-borne illness -- campylobacter and salmonella," said Consumer Reports' Kim Kleman. "Only 34 percent of the chickens had neither bacteria."

Leading chicken brands as well as store and organic brands were tested. The results were not appetizing; 62 percent of the chicken contained campylobacter, 14 percent contained salmonella, and nine percent had both bacteria.

"Of the name brands, more than 80 percent of the Tyson and Foster Farms chicken had one or both bacteria. Perdue was the cleanest -- 56 percent was free of the bacteria," said Kleman.

Overall, air-chilled organic broilers were among the cleanest. But no matter what chicken you buy, you need to take precautions.

Buy chicken that's well wrapped and pick from the bottom of the case, where it should be the coolest. Also, put it in a produce bag so you don't cross-contaminate other foods.

Once you get home, use a cutting board that's just for raw poultry and meat. After prepping chicken, use hot, soapy water and paper towels to wash and dry anything you and the raw chicken might have touched.

Alexis Sarti won her lawsuit and says she hopes no one will ever have to endure what she's been through.

Consumer Reports says you should also use a meat thermometer to be sure the chicken is cooked thoroughly -- to at least 165 degrees. And if you're not going to prepare chicken within one to two days, freeze it.


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