Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oh Fiddlesticks, I've Got Foster Farms Chicken in My Kitchen!

I'd get rid of it if I were you.

If you have Foster Farms chicken with the following numbers on the packaging: P6137, P6137A, P7632, either throw it out or take it back to the store and exchange it for a non-salmonella tainted batch, or how about a different brand all together. With 278 reported cases of salmonella poisoning, and 42% of those cases resulting in hospitalization, all the CDC and Foster Farms have to say is, gee, that's a higher number than normal, people really ought to be using a meat thermometer when they cook their chicken. Really. So for the hundreds of thousands of people that ate chicken in the last month, these guys just happened to cook theirs improperly, I doubt that has much to do with why so many have fallen so ill in such a brief period of time. I believe the real culprit here, besides the despicable business and welfare practices of most companies in the food industry, is cross-contamination.

As someone licensed by the state of California in food management and safe handling procedures, and I don't mean a food handler's certificate, I am licensed to oversee the food handlers, food, and environment in which it is handled. In the 18 years that I oversaw a restaurant kitchen, we never had a reported incident of food borne illness and were actually put on an elite program, by the Health Department, to receive yearly inspections rather than quarterly or every six months, as our standards of cleanliness, and lack of reported safety issues, were above par. And yes, we handled raw meat in that kitchen.

With an established background in food safety, what makes me think the salmonella outbreak is related to cross-contamination, well, you can cook your chicken all day long but do you cook your cutting board, your knife, how about the sponge you clean those things with, what about your hands? Here's the deal, all chickens have the possibility of becoming contaminated by salmonella, one sits around in a vat too long and the bacteria begins to grow, then more chickens are thrown in there with the contaminated chicken, the bacteria begins to multiply, then the chickens are processed and all the machinery, workers and surfaces that these chickens touch, become contaminated. You, dear consumer, unwittingly take home a package of this salmonella chicken, you put it in the refrigerator, you take it out, it sits on the counter, into the sink to get rinsed, onto the cutting board, into the pan, you wipe your brow with your hands before washing/bleaching/cooking them thoroughly and there you have it, a trip to the hospital. I am very curious to know, besides the number of individuals this has affected, the number of households. In a situation where you have brought home a product tainted by salmonella, your only recourse, the only way to be entirely safe, is to bleach the hell out of everything, including your hands.

This is what the food industry is telling us, it is our responsibility, as consumers, to cook the meat thoroughly, bleach, or don't use, a sponge, designate cutting boards for different tasks, and pray you aren't one of the unlucky ones who forgets to do all these things and makes themselves ill. Excuse me, accountability, anyone? Ever notice that meat is only recalled if it has Mad Cow Disease but any produce that is related to a food borne illness is immediately recalled, wonder why? Because you aren't expected to cook all your veggies, but the meat, that's all on you, not on the companies willing to allow contaminated product out of their facilities, into stores and into vulnerable bodies. In some European countries, salmonella has nearly been eliminated simply by tossing out batches that include any infected meat, this is considered to be too expensive of a practice to attempt in the United States. The United Chicken Council even noted that:

"Publicly available data show the prevalence of Salmonella on raw poultry products has been significantly reduced since the performance standards were implemented, but the incidence of salmonellosis in the human population shows no measurable improvement during the same time period."

That is from 2004-2012, their conclusion:

"For consumers, the bottom line is that chicken is safe when properly cooked and handled, and that chicken producers and processors are continually working to make them even safer. Instructions for safe handling and cooking are printed on every package of meat and poultry sold in the United States – when followed, one can be assured of a safe eating experience every time."

Its still up to you, its all on the label afterall. Foster Farms can generate infected meat for the rest of the year (remember, this is the second outbreak this year, the first was in March) and never be held accountable for it because it is your responsibility to cook your meat properly. With that in mind, we can all just stop buying Foster Farms chicken and if you can afford it, go organic, right? Coastal Range Organics is Foster Farms line of organic poultry so beware, just because it says organic, doesn't mean its safe or being handled better, they also refused to tell me what “natural flavor” was added to their “organic” ground turkey, so I've got an issue with them already.

My conclusion, leave Foster Farms products on the shelves, cook your chicken as you see fit and keep an eye on what is laying about where in your kitchen. And please, don't try to cook the salmonella out of the contaminated batches, its absurd and irresponsible to expect people to tote around bacteria laden meat and then blame them when it infects other products, surfaces, or hands, in their kitchen, in my opinion, you are owed uninfected product.

If none of that ruffled your feathers, the USDA has approved 4 plants in China to process U.S chicken and then send it back to the U.S. without labeling that the chickens have more stamps in their passports than many of us.
Profit before safety, this is what the warning on meat labels ought to say.

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