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Is It Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat?

pHion Balance  |  0 Comment

Consumer surveys show that 45 percent of Americans believe it is illegal to sell meat or poultry that is contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. That means nearly half of us are wrong…perhaps dead wrong.

Ninety-two percent of chicken carcasses are contaminated with fecal residue when they leave slaughtering facilities, and half of retail poultry samples are contaminated with strains of bacteria commonly linked to human urinary tract infections and food poisonings.

Analyses conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System demonstrate that meat and poultry products on the U.S. retail market are frequently contaminated with multidrug-resistant species of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Enterococcus, and E. coli. On average, half of all meat samples tested are also contaminated with staphylococcal bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

These are the same organisms that keep infectious disease specialists awake at night and worry the epidemiologists who roam the vaunted corridors of the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. The bugs that are finding their way to our tables can be lethal, and they don’t always respond to medical therapy.

The widespread use of antibiotics, the use of intestine-tearing hooks to open the abdominal cavities of slaughtered animals, and other common meat-industry practices are undoubtedly at the root of these alarming statistics. Unfortunately, not much is being done to correct the situation.

When pressed about the public health hazards of marketing contaminated meat, industry officials claim that it would be prohibitively expensive to adopt processing methods that eliminate bacterial contamination. Oddly enough, though, other developed countries seem to have a better handle on this problem, and their citizens can still purchase meat without taking out a second mortgage. (In Sweden, for example, it is illegal to sell poultry contaminated with Salmonella, which is the leading cause of food-poisoning fatalities in the United States.)

And, if you pose the same questions to the folks who are in charge of food safety and production policies in the U.S. (namely, the United States Department of Agriculture) you’re likely to be handed a pamphlet that warns of the dangers of undercooked meat — but there will probably be some great barbecuing recipes on the back. According to the USDA, “safety” is in the hands of the preparer.

In other words, if you (or your kids) get sick from eating contaminated meat, it’s your fault.

Here's to your wellness,


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