Consumer Reports' latest report isn't for the weak of stomach: Some 97% of the 316 raw chicken breasts it purchased at US stores in July contained "worrisome amounts of bacteria." While it admits it's "unrealistic to expect uncooked chicken won't contain any potentially harmful bacteria ... our latest tests produced troubling findings," it writes. The breasts—20% were labeled antibiotic-free, and about 8% were organic—were tested for six kinds of bacteria. More than half contained fecal matter, half tested positive for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and there was no appreciable difference in breasts labelled "organic" or "no antibiotics." It ultimately recommends no brand of chicken, but advises vigilant hand-washing and proper cooking (to at least 165 degrees), and does say there are "good reasons" for opting for antibiotic-free brands.
A separate Pew study picked up by the Washington Post notes the Department of Agriculture's "serious weaknesses" in poultry plant oversight and the "insufficient" moves it took "to protect public health" in the wake of chicken-related salmonella outbreaks. "When more than 500 people get sick from a food-borne illness outbreak, that means the system we have in place wasn't working to protect public health," Pew's Food Safety Campaign director said. Consumer Reports recommends the USDA abandon its new inspection system, and Pew is in favor of allowing more aggressive actions from inspectors, including unannounced pathogen testing. The National Chicken Council president, however, said, "Eliminating bacteria entirely is always the goal, but in reality, it's simply not feasible." (Read more chicken stories.)