Report: Chicken responsible for greatest percentage of foodborne illness outbreaks

With more than 100,000 Americans sickened by foodborne illnesses between 2009 and 2015, you’d think there would be one food that was most often implicated in outbreaks, right?

Well, you’d be correct. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report containing many of the facts and figures of this six-year-span.

Chicken was attributed to about 12% of foodborne illness cases —  equal to 3,114 people. Following chicken were pork and seeded vegetables (things like cucumbers, jalapeno peppers and other vegetables that contain seeds), which both affected about 10% of victims. This data counts for cases of foodborne illness where a single ingredient was identified.

The CDC also reported that of 100,939 total foodborne illness victims, 5,699 were hospitalized and 145 died. The total number of outbreaks: 5,760.

Pathogen problems

The most common pathogen in these cases is norovirus, implicated in 38% of outbreaks. The next biggest culprit is Salmonella, with 30% of outbreaks.

Of the most serious cases, Listeria, Salmonella and E. coli were to blame for 82% of hospitalizations and 82% of all deaths, showcasing how dangerous these particular pathogens are.

When it comes to chicken (and eggs), Salmonella is a big problem, and likely one of the biggest pathogens associated with chicken-sourced outbreaks. Processors test for the bacteria in their products, but consumers can keep themselves safe too:

  • Defrost meat in the fridge, under cool water, or in the microwave. Leaving it on the counter to defrost at room temperature allows many hours for bacteria to multiply.
  • Always cook chicken to at least 165°F. Use a meat thermometer to make sure you’ve gotten there.
  • Don’t wash raw meat. Food safety experts say that cooking to a high temperature is adequate — cleaning splashes raw meat juice around your sink and countertop, which could cause the spread of bacteria.
  • Clean all utensils, cutting boards, and surfaces that touched the raw meat — including your own hands.

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