Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chicken Tartare Anyone?

Recently the CBC program Marketplace revealed the ugly truth about the chicken we eat, it's full of bacteria. If that wasn't bad enough, it's full of bacteria that is resistant to various antibiotics. The problem is, according to the program is the fact that poultry farmers jack up the amount of antibiotics they fill their birds. A great deal of this, the argument goes, because the birds live in horrific conditions, filled with disease and dirt. The birds are suffering greatly and the only way to keep them with some semblance of health until they reach the abattoir is to have them filled with antibiotics. So its no wonder the birds have these super bugs on them, because the environment and the overexposure of the drugs makes it possible.

Needless to say, Chicken Farmers are not impressed with the news. In fact their federation sent off a letter to the CBC to give their side of the story. As well, one of Canada's largest food chains had a reaction to the show, Loblaws sent this email to the CBC:
he use of antibiotics is not permitted in the production of President's Choice® Free From™ Chicken. We have rigorous processes and controls in place to ensure that all of our Free From™ Chicken is produced to the exacting standards that we specify meeting all Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulatory requirements for such products. It's probable that if microbes were isolated on chicken that there could be resistant isolates amongst them. Any such isolation of bacteria displaying antimicrobial resistance to antibiotics are part of the general microbial population, which over time have had the natural ability to resist certain antibiotics and not necessarily the result of direct exposure to antibiotics. As expected within the microbial ecosystem, which is part of our environment, products can become naturally exposed to strains of anti-microbial resistant bacteria. This is simply a characteristic of the endemic microbial population and has no relationship at all to the Free From™ Chicken Program.

I suppose at the end of the program the question needs to be ask, is our food truly that contaminated? Are people dropping dead or ending up in the hospital because of contaminated food? On one hand the answer is 'no', on the other, is it something we should be concerned about? As we learned during the various Mad Cow infections, our food is not perfect, nor are the modern agricultural methods. Certainly in the day and age in which we consumers demand good food that is good, plentiful and relatively inexpensive, the only way to meet this is by making things happen faster then allowing nature to take its course.

If I can go back, the Chicken Farmers of Canada have an entire page on their website to deal with Antibiotics.

There was one point in the article from the CBC that does need reminding:
While thorough cooking kills bacteria — including superbugs — most contamination happens before the chicken is cooked through improper handling. If there's contamination by superbugs, the worry is that consumers could ingest illness-causing bugs that are then resistant to much of the available spectrum of traditional antibiotic therapy.

It seems there is still one thing that will kill the bacteria and that's cooking the chicken completely. Seems they resist everything but heat. So keep it at 350 for 45 minutes. Everything will be fine. As well, there is the reminder to keep cutting boards and other kitchen surfaces clean to ensure there is no cross contamination. This is good advice that we do need to remember. Plus to wash our hands, got to keep those hands washed. This seems to be the number one way of keeping germs from being spread.

Of course, to get back to the poultry industry, do we need to crack down on the use of antibiotics, probably we do, we do want safe food and we want to know it is ultimately safe for us. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we like the concept of the factory farm for poultry or any other farm animal. Or is this the cost to keep us with the variety of food at the prices we like. This is the issue we need to keep in our minds. Or is there middle ground that can be achieved.

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