USDA sets new guidelines for acceptable amounts of salmonella in poultry products

Coco, one of my eight hens


A USA Today story reports that the FDA had tightened guidelines on how much salmonella and campylobacter is acceptable in poultry products, making the nation’s food supply safer. 

 From the story: 

“Under the new standards, only 7.5% of chicken carcasses at a plant would be allowed to test positive for salmonella, down from 20% allowed since 1996. Salmonella levels in chickens were tested at 7.1% nationally in 2009, says Richard Lobb of the National Chicken Council … The new rules for campylobacter, which had not been regulated before, are that companies fail if they have more than 10% positives for ‘highly contaminated’ carcasses and 46% for ‘low level’ contamination. The USDA estimates that about 50% of poultry plants are now at this level.” 

 According to the story, “In 2008, an estimated 40.2% chickens tested positive for campylobacter, which causes diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain and fever ” and infects 2.4 million people a year.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates in the US,  there are 1.4 million cases of salmonella resulting in more than 500 deaths annually. 

Salmonella and campylobacter and other food-borne pathogens just come with the territory when you’re mass producing food for millions of people. Chickens have salmonella. That’s life. 

The bigger question, though, is just how often Americans even consider where their food comes from or how it gets to their table. 

The eggs I eat, for example, come from six – and soon eight – chickens in our backyard. I know their names, their personalities, and what color eggs which breed lays, even if I can’t always pinpoint who laid which eggs because the colors are so similar. I know the eggs are washed clean, because I wash them with my own little hands. I know when they were laid, because I mark the dates on the shell with a crayon. I know how much room they’ve had to roam around the yard, what they’re eating, and when their coop was cleaned. 

Grocery eggs? They come from chickens packed into cages so small the hens can’t lift their wings. Researchers at Purdue University, though, have been breeding hens better suited to live in cramped cages on livestock farms – because cramped cages lead to chicken cannibalism.  (Is that what we need? Genetically engineered chickens that fit better into cages? Or chickens that roam free on a farm, the way God intended? But that’s another rant for another day.) 

The discussion about food could go on for days – cows fed grain they were never created to eat, which makes them unhealthy and produces beef that’s not healthy for us to eat, for example.  Cows eat grass, which keeps them healthy and produces beef with less fat and better quality, healthier meat. 

It’s great that the FDA is making our food supply safer, but I’d encourage you to go a step further and seek out foods that are safer, healthier, produced closer to home, and grown or raised the way God created them to live. 

If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend the books “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”, and the film, “Food, Inc.” And if you don’t have time for that? Pick up Michael Pollan’s “Food Rules,” a little book that pretty much condenses all of the information into short, bite-sized pieces for the ADD nation. 

And I have eggs, if you need some.


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