Care for some enterococci with your chicken?

enterococcus gram positive

Enterococci, shown here with a violet hue as a result of part of the identification process in the lab, are common in both humans and animals. (Photo: CDC/Janice Haney Carr)

Consumer Reports analyzed more than 300 raw chicken breasts from different stores and producers, and the results probably shocked a lot of people. The consumer watchdog said enterococcus was the most common bacteria in the samples, found in 79.8 percent of them.

Enterococcus occurs naturally in humans and animals, and the bacteria can make you very sick. Increasingly physicians are concerned about antibiotic resistance to this species. There were plenty of others to be concerned about as well:

“Next was E. coli, in 65.2 percent of them; campylobacter, 43 percent; klebsiella pneumoniae, 13.6 percent; salmonella, 10.8 percent, and staphylococcus aureus, 9.2 percent.”

Nasty critters, those.

CR has posted the analysis online, and but chicken lovers may take heart. There are measures you can take, especially in handling and cooking it once you get the bird home, to prevent illness.

Americans love their chicken, purchasing the equivalent of about 83 pounds per person every year.

Concerns were raised about the use of antibiotics by farmers. The practice began in the 1940s when farmers found that chickens fed antibiotics grew faster and that led to producing larger flocks. Now, however, experts are concerned about resistance to antibiotics—a whopping 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animal production, according to CR.

Superbugs were found in half the samples CR tested: “49.7 percent of our samples contained at least one multidrug-resistant bacterium, and 11.5 percent had at least two.”

Organic brands were included in the study samples.

Food safety isn’t an issue politicos rally around. Just like any other issue where harm to humans can occur, what happens often depends on what the consumer or user does. However, data CR cited offers little comfort:

“Though 48 million people fall sick every year from eating food tainted with salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli, and other contaminants, ‘more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity,’ according to an analysis of outbreaks from 1998 through 2008 by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

CR does deliver some good news too, though, with a list of measures you can take to protect yourself. While you may be getting some enterococci along with your favorite meat, much depends on how you handle the product once you get it home and unwrap it. It pays to be careful when you handle any food, plant or animal, because there’s no guarantee it didn’t collide with a nasty bug or two as it made its way to your prep table.

(Commentary by Kay B. Day/Dec. 19, 2013)

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About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.

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