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Oct 17, 2013 02:07 PM

Mark Bittman's Rhetorical Question: Should You Eat Chicken?

What say you, Chowhounds? I don't eat poultry anyway so it's a non issue for me. Curious if any of you omnivores are taking a break in light of the recent salmonella outbreak.


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  1. I'm the least germophobic person I know. And lived in a "magic house" before Sam invented the term. But I'm concerned about this. I currently have no chicken in the freezer. As big a cheapskate as I can be I'm leaning heavily toward buying from local producers. As Bittman said, until the govt. does something, we're taking in my opinion, an unacceptable risk. Just me.

    3 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Short answer; NO.

      The chicken industry is shooting itself in the foot if they think they're saving money because a few more of these incidents and the industry could take a huge hit. The thing is, it's only getting worse. Fewer USDA inspectors, faster kill lines, "self regulation" or selective testing (HIMP), and that sort of thing.

      1. re: c oliver

        We also buy from local producers whenever possible. I have chickens and ducks raised by a local farmer in the freezer.

        Since I only eat poultry and fish I am concerned but not alarmed.

        CSAs may benefit from this. Not knowing where your food comes from is unsettling. Especially when you eat out. Some restaurants buy from local farms but they probably can't source enough locally to meet their needs.

        1. re: financialdistrictresident

          Our favorite restaurant at this point probably has two dozen local sources for their foods. It's something they strongly support and part of the reason we support them. And they make almost everything inhouse.

      2. I eat a ton of chicken, should be interesting. I'm interested to hear others thoughts.

        1. I eat a chicken often and the recent outbreak doesn't change anything for me. I've known for a long time that raw chicken can contain pathogens, so I am careful to follow safe handling procedures and to cook it thoroughly.

          I don't go along with Bittman on his criticism of the FSIS. I think they have been handling this incident properly. It may be that the regulations should be more stringent, but in the meantime the FSIS must apply the regulations they have. They can't just make up rules as they go along. Regulatory bodies must follow proper rule-making procedure.

          I've read that there are about a million cases of salmonellosis a year in the US. This outbreak is a small part of that. It is probably impossible to eliminate salmonella from our food supply, so even if regulations are tightened, and recalls required for the most dangerous strains of salmonella, it would still be prudent to follow safe-handling protocols for poultry.

          33 Replies
          1. re: GH1618

            GH. I think there are two ways to look at this.

            1) Stop eating chicken because they are dangerous (more dangerous)


            2) Stop eating chicken as a way to express and boycott the industry.

            I am concern about the chicken industry practice, but not concern enough to stop eating chicken. That is just me -- for now.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              What about the third way, which to clean up the industry which in the US is so focused on profit that it is compromising the health of consumers? It's not like there is no choice.

            2. re: GH1618

              I totally agree with you. Salmonella is endemic in our food supply. Clean your hands. Clean and disinfect your cutting boards and utensils. Cook your food to the proper internal temperature, And recently I read that washing your chicken before cooking actually spreads salmonella, so just pat it dry with paper towels.

              I think the government and Foster Foods handled this outbreak appropriately. The onus lies with the end user, namely US.

              1. re: elegraph

                I was not aware that the government did anything other than alert the public.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    No, they also increased the inspections, demanded process improvements, and threatened to close the plant if the improvements were not made in a timely manner.

                    1. re: GH1618

                      Did you read the article I linked to?

                      I guess I missed the things you reference.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        I did not. I don't generally read HuffPo. I did read the enforcement letter from FSIS to Foster Farms. I prefer primary sources.


                          1. re: c oliver

                            That has something to do with beef. Off topic. And what I am citing is the FSIS letter, not the blog which posted it.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Food. From what I've read that court ruling is used for chicken also.

                    2. re: c oliver

                      I'm with you, c Oliver. Seems we should take a cue from Sweden.

                      1. re: globocity

                        And thanks for bringing that up. Sweden has what about 1% and we're at 66%ish? So there's plenty to do.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Where is the consumer outrage? Seems that is the only thing that will light the fire under the arse if out government.

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I'm sorry, but excuse me?

                              How many people have died from this current salmonella incident?

                              Bittman in his article cites to none, and there are no reported deaths that I am aware of being reported. (And the most recent data from the CDC shows that for 2009-10 there were 5 deaths related to salmonella That's 5 in a 2 year period. I'm guessing more toddlers died from accidental drownings in bathtubs during that same time frame.).

                              Now, one can say that 1 death is 1 too many (especially if it's a loved one) but in the grand scheme if things it doesn't even rise to the level of a rounding error.

                              (And that inane example Bittman provides of possibly dying from salmonella is just as likely as dying from a deep gash on your arm. So please, hold the hysteria).

                              In the larger context of food relate problems like world hunger, food deserts, etc. salmonella just isn't worth getting riled up over.

                              It's like throwing a tissy-fit over a hangnail when your arm is broken.

                              I am outraged that millions of children go to bed hungry every night in this country.

                              But this? This, I don't even give another thought to during those moments of contemplation while sitting on the toilet waiting for nature and gravity to converge.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                As I've said before, I'm referring to the organism, the pathogen if you will. Food borne illnesses are grossly underreported. But the fact that 2/3 of the chickens in the US have salmonella vs. one tenth of one percent in Sweden is atrocious. It shows yet again that the government has sold out to Big Ag. And sharing your toilet habits brings nothing to the argument, IMO.

                                1. re: c oliver

                                  Sweden does some things better than we in the US do. There are likely many countries with more contaminated food than ours. We are not going to model our agricultural practices after Sweden's, so the important question is what improvements should be made to poultry production in the US to make it safer.

                                  1. re: GH1618

                                    What are Sweden's agricultural practice and why aren't we going to model ours after theirs? Sincerely asking. Obviously we need to do something. As a government.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      You can read about the Swedish poultry industry and its Salmonella prevention measures here:


                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Thank you. Allow me to repeat:

                                        why aren't we going to model ours after theirs?

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          Sweden's debt to GDP ratio is 38% and falling. The United States' debt to GDP is 100% and rising.

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            GDP ratios aren't really relevant here, right? This isn't a question of macroeconomic policy and the evolution of capitalism. It's about whether the US will continue to tolerate the salmonella infection levels of poultry in the US, when the trends are that it is getting worse. I think the answer is "no" but it's an issue of timing, given that poultry manufacturers have a lot of influence on consumer opinion.

                                            The Sweden example shows that the state of poultry production in the US is the product of choice, not of necessity. The reason we choose to adopt our current standards is that we like really cheap chicken. But antibiotic-resistant salmonella strains are not a minor issue.

                                            1. re: calumin

                                              This is most definitely not the place to discuss politics and economics, but when you raise the question of whether and how government should overhaul the production of chicken in the US, that's what you're getting into. It isn't going to happen in my lifetime, so it's pointless to debate it.

                                              I expect improvements in reducing pathogens in chicken will be made from time to time, if public health warrants it, and especially if public opinion demands it, but not to the extent of making chicken salmonella-free.

                                              1. re: GH1618

                                                To me that smacks of if we can't fix it completely then we shouldn't do anything. Aim low and achieve even lower. Aim high and that lower is better. Does that make sense?

                                          2. re: c oliver


                                            I was going to respond to your initial point about Sweden, but what little Chowhound discretion I have, got the better of me.

                                            I suppose i could have refuted your argument point-by-point and made it a complete mockery, but I just felt it wasn't really necessary to elevate this discussion to the point of argument, much less disagreement and animosity. I enjoy my discourse I've had with you, and hope to continue to do so -- either in a serious discussion or (as you put it) with an "ipse factor".

                                            Suffice to say, you have your position about why the US should model it's poultry system after Sweden's, and so be it. More power to you and you are fully entitled to that position. But if the fulcrum of your argument is why the US can't be (more?) like Sweden, then really you and are speaking on different planes. It would be like us trying to figure out how many corners a circle has.

                                            In any event, keep up the good fight c.

                                            Cheers, and Go Sweden!

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              Thanks, ipse. An adult way to handle it. And, yes, I've more than once been criticized for being too idealistic, expecting more out of people (and govts.) than I'm ever going to see. I can live with that :)

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Hey! I take offense to being called an adult ...

                                                Talk to you on another thread.

                                        2. re: c oliver

                                          Perhaps you should write your Congressman. But lately, they haven't been able to keep the government running on all cylinders.

                                          1. re: GH1618

                                            But that doesn't mean we just throw in the towel. I was listening to a program on NPR and it was suggesting that rather than writing one's congressperson to get involved in a program that you're passionate about That's more likely to effect change. Also we could stop buying tanks that the generals don't want.

                                        3. re: GH1618

                                          Well, China is much more contaminated, but increasingly, we're buying food an drugs from them, or constituent ingredients unlabeled as Chinese.

                                          1. re: mcf

                                            fwiw, i'm doing my best to NOT be part of the group that is buying food and drugs from china.
                                            (additionally i don't buy cookware or dish-ware that was produced in china)
                                            found a source for US grown organic edamame, my latest quest.
                                            read labels religiously.

                                            i'm sure something must have slipped through my sieve, but i am all-out trying here.

                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                              Moi, aussi. The problem is that there are so many constituents in food products that come from or have been processed in, China that it's hard to avoid.

                                              Doing my best, at least where I know what something is and contains, too.

                      2. I'll add that just because Costco claims its rotisserie chicken is cooked at 180 °F, that doesn't mean it has been properly cooked. Chicken must reach an internal temperature of 165 °F everywhere for ten minutes to meet FSIS standards. An independent inspector must verify that their cooking procedure meets this standard before I'll believe it.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: GH1618

                          The Los Angeles Times reported that the Costco location which cooked the chicken which was recalled cooks about 1000 birds per day. It could be that their procedure is safe but that the proper procedure wasn't followed for some of the product. Mistakes are more likely when a system is overloaded.

                          1. re: GH1618

                            It also doesn't mean that it hasn't been touched with utensils, hands, etc. that were not heated.

                            1. re: GH1618

                              Speaking of Costco - I was appalled, frankly, when I went to Costco the day after the chicken story broke. Ralph's had pulled all their Foster Farms chickens, and the news story I read said that the chickens had been pulled from every grocery and Costco in a voluntary recall. I went to Costco to see if I could get some fish or something for dinner instead, and they had a fully stocked chicken case, rotisseries, etc. Surprised, I asked the man restocking the meats, "Oh, I thought the chickens were recalled!" hoping to hear news that the recall was over, and got instead: "No. There was no recall" in a tone that implied I was a paranoid idiot. "I thought there was; Ralph's pulled all their chicken." "No recall. You just have to make sure you cook it really, really well, and it should be fine. Just cook it a lot."

                              I was flabbergasted - not just that Costco would decide NOT to pull their chicken when every other store had, but that their advice is to just cook it to death?? I did not buy chicken that visit, and I am not a suit-happy person, but if I had bought chicken and gotten sick, I would have sued them in a heartbeat. I think I'm just astounded that we all just sort of accept, "oh well, chicken is diseased" and go about our business as if there is no solution...

                              1. re: thursday

                                It wasn't all Costco stores, but only in the area where the contaminated chickens were found.

                                1. re: thursday

                                  The advice to "cook it really, really well, and it should be fine" is ironic, given that the two recalls Costco made for this store was for chicken products which they are claiming were all cooked to 180 degrees.

                              2. I expect that poultry producers are more strongly motivated to deliver a safe product because of plaintiffs' attorneys rather than FSIS standards. Parasitic as they are, they occasionally serve a useful purpose.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Veggo

                                  Hey Veggo: "...plaintiffs' attorneys... occasionally serve a useful purpose."

                                  Wait a minute. I resemble that remark! Or, as Groucho, in dictating a letter to his attorneys, instructed" "Gentlemen. Question mark."