Malpractice News

July 19, 2013

Chickens from farmers’ markets high in bacteria

Some people shop at farmer’s markets because they like to support local growers. Others shop there because of the plentiful supply of quality hand-crafted goods they can peruse at will. Still others shop there because prices for produce are sometimes cheaper than those found at the regular grocery store. While all of these are good reasons for shopping the farmer’s market, you might want to be careful what types of food you buy there. According to a study published last month in The Journal of Food Safety, “The popularity of farmers’ markets is increasing throughout the U.S.A.” and “vendors are selling numerous food products, including raw chicken, which is known to harbor Campylobacter spp. and Salmonella spp.,” both of which are known bacterial instigators of food poisoning.

Large percentage jump from grocery store to farmer’s market

Researchers in this study purchased 100 whole chickens from grocery stores, half of them being organic, and 100 whole chickens from farmer’s markets. They then tested each chicken for Campylobacter and Salmonella. Their findings were as follows: Of the chickens bought at grocery stores, “28 percent of the organic chickens tested positive for Campylobacter and 20 percent for Salmonella, while 52 percent of the nonorganic chickens were contaminated with Campylobacter and 8 percent with Salmonella.” If these numbers sound ominous, consider the results of the farmer’s market chickens: “28 percent tested positive for Salmonella and 90 percent for Campylobacter.”

Small farms not inspected

The study’s authors hypothesized that one reason for this disparity might be the differences in regulations of small versus large poultry farms. Farms that produce less than 20,000 birds per year are not inspected by the Department of Agriculture. With these numbers, however, regulatory inspectors might want to reconsider this omission.

Buyers and sellers handle with caution

The doctoral student who led this study out of Pennsylvania State was Joshua Scheinberg and he wanted to emphasize that his position was not anti-farmers’ markets. However, he suggested buyers and sellers “make sure they’re handling the products properly, keeping them cold, making sure they’re not cross-contaminating tabletops or kitchen implements. Yes, we found in a small study higher levels of these pathogens. But these would be destroyed if properly cooked to 165 degrees.” And even without these results, most cooks already know that it’s imperative to handle raw meat carefully since all meat has some chance of being tinged with food poison-causing bacteria.


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