How Safe Is That Christmas Turkey?

December 23, 2009

By Terry Smilijanich:

Before you take a bite of that Christmas turkey, you may want to read on and make sure you’re cooking that holiday bird well!

Last year, Consumer Warning Network reported that the 2008 Farm Bill loosened federal regulation of poultry inspections by allowing state inspection programs take the place of federal inspections. With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas dinners around the corner, how’s that little bit of federal deregulation working out?

Consumers Union recently tested 382 whole chicken broilers bought at over 100 supermarkets nationwide, and tested them for salmonella and campylobacter, the two leading causes of food poisoning. Two-thirds of the raw chickens tested showed signs of one or both of these dangerous contaminants. A similar test back in 2003 had found such contaminants in half of the chickens examined. On the other hand, another test in 2007 had found a higher rate of contamination.

The cleanest products came from Perdue chickens, but the worst came from Tyson and Foster Farms. Interestingly, all of the store brand “organic chickens” involved in the testing were free of salmonella. Of course, all chickens are presumably “organic,” but organic farmers usually follow more stringent standards in their smaller operations.

So, are we better off with less federal regulation? The jury is still out. Now that your local state inspector doesn’t have a pesky federal inspector looking over his shoulder, it remains to be seen whether the level of safety will suffer. Is it acceptable that only one out of three poultry products can be considered safe?

With every three poultry purchases at your supermarket, two of them will probably have bacterial contamination. This is why it is so important to follow safe cooking rules whenever you roast that turkey stuffed with dressing.