The answer to this question is a startling one, according to Sam Martin, a senior director and food safety expert at Microbac Laboratories. “Approximately 30% of grocery store chicken is contaminated with bacteria,” he told HuffPost. “This number would include salmonella, E. coli, listeria, staphylococcus, and campylobacter.”
Before you completely freak out, cooking the chicken will kill this bacteria, Martin said. The issue is that many people don’t know when their chicken is properly cooked — and he emphasized that the only way to know if chicken is fully cooked is by using a meat thermometer. “You have to ensure that it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the thickest part,” he said.
He added that the spread of bacteria has a lot to do with how chicken is processed once it reaches the poultry plant. “The bacteria of concern are either part of the chicken’s intestinal flora or are present on their skin and feathers. The process of de-feathering and evisceration can allow some of that bacteria to get onto the flesh.”
Additional processing steps, like cutting and grinding, can also expose the meat to bacteria. “Processing facility sanitation is critical to keeping the surfaces clean. Most poultry processors perform full chemical sanitation every day, and all of the above is done under USDA inspection,” Martin said.
Dr. Marion Nestle, a molecular biologist who has studied and taught food science for decades and was interviewed in the documentary, told HuffPost that the conditions conventionally-raised chickens are kept in can spread disease. “The bacteria do not make the chickens sick, but they can make eaters sick if the chickens aren’t handled and cooked properly,” she told HuffPost. “Also, because antibiotics are used widely in chicken-raising, the bacteria develop antibiotic resistance, which can make treatment difficult.”
So what can you do to decrease your odds of picking out chicken that could make you sick?