Consumer Reports has unveiled the results of a study that provide a frightening look at commercially sold uncooked chicken in the U.S. – two thirds of the chicken tested was positive for either Salmonella, Campylobacter, or both. 

The consumer organization tested 382 chickens from 100 different stores in 22 states.  Here are a few of their findings:

  • Campylobacter was in 62 percent of the chickens, salmonella was in 14 percent, and both bacteria were in 9 percent.

  • Store-brand organic chickens had no salmonella at all, showing that it’s possible for chicken to arrive in stores without that bacterium riding along…57 percent of those birds harbored campylobacter.

  • The cleanest name-brand chickens were Perdue’s: 56 percent were free of both pathogens.

  • Most contaminated were Tyson and Foster Farms chickens. More than 80 percent tested positive for one or both pathogens.

  • Among all brands and types of broilers tested, 68 percent of the salmonella and 60 percent of the campylobacter organisms we analyzed showed resistance to one or more antibiotics.

No doubt that some confronted with these findings will dismiss it – "everyone knows that you have to cook chicken before you eat it."  Such an attitude understates the problem associated with these eye-opening findings.   

First, the risks of cross-contamination in the home are not often fully appreciated.   Any contact between these raw products and other surfaces – knives, hands, counter tops- that will then come in contact with ready-to-eat foods, puts consumers at risk.

Second, the severity of the risk is likely under-appreciated.  The bacterial pathogens on these chickens can cause severe illnesses.  The 2008-2009 Salmonella outbreak associated with PCA peanut butter killed nine people.   Campylobacter infections are a known cause of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).  GBS  is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. It often leads to paralysis, and can be fatal.