The report, by non-profit organisation the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), analysed data on foodborne illness from the US Department of Agriculture and concluded that chicken and ground beef carried the highest risk of foodborne bugs such as E.coli O157:H7, salmonella, listeria and clostridium perfringens. It added that illness tended to be more severe when contracted through eating ground beef and chicken than it was with other meat products.
“Outbreaks from ground beef and chicken are reported frequently and, all too often, cause debilitating illnesses that lead to hospitalisation,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “For example, approximately a quarter of those who are sickened by salmonella will go to the hospital. The hospitalisation rate for E.coli infections is nearly 50% and for listeria infections it is more than 90%.”
However, the National Chicken Council (NCC) pointed out that “rigorous” food safety standards are applied to chicken in the US and the industry has invested “tens of millions of dollars” in technology and scientific process to reduce risks for consumers.
“The bottom line for consumers is that all chicken is safe to eat when properly handled and cooked. Consumers can continue to feel confident about including chicken as a lean, low-fat and high-protein part of a healthy, balanced diet,” said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D, NCC vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs.
Peterson pointed out that CSPI’s own analysis revealed that outbreaks of foodborne illness had decreased by 40% over the last 10 years. She added that, by the CSPI’s own admission, the illness data used for the analysis only represented a “small fraction of likely cases”, and claimed that if a full data set had been used, the results would have been quite different.
Other risky meat products identified by the CSPI report included steak and other forms of beef, as well as turkey products.
Chicken nuggets, ham and sausage were found to pose the lowest risk of foodborne illness, although CSPI pointed out that previous studies have suggested these products could be dangerous for health, due to high levels of saturated fat and sodium, so this report “shouldn’t be interpreted as licence to eat a lot more sausage”.