chicken the most unsafe food

Chicken: The Most Unsafe Food

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Chicken has come out as the most unsafe food to eat

According to a recent report from the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and prevention). Chicken has come out as the most unsafe food and the most common culprit for food-related illnesses from 2009 through 2015. Chicken was involved in over 3 100 serious cases over this period.

It is any surprise that this is the case? 8 Billion chickens are consumed in the US each year.  In comparison to other meats, chickens are considered the dirtiest of all the livestock animals. No not pigs.

Virtually every single food-related bacteria, virus and parasite are present in chickens. This is very likely because of the living conditions of these birds, as well as the slaughtering process.

Salmonella is the bacteria that is reported as the most common food poisoning bacteria with over 23 000 reported illnesses. Noroviruses take the lead with over 27 000 cases. And the Cyclospora parasite with 400 report cases. Bear in mind that this data predates the Listeriosis outbreak in South Africa and the Cyclospora outbreak happening in the US in 2018.

The foods most responsible for food poisoning are :

  1. Chicken
  2. Seeded Vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers)
  3. Pork
  4. Eggs
  5. Fish
  6. Fruits
  7. Dairy

Quick facts about Salmonella

 Salmonella are a type of bacteria that are one of the most common food poisoning bacteria (Salmonellosis). And are one of the most well-known names of bacteria. S.enteritis causes diarrhoea, stomach cramps and fever. Known as Salmonellosis. Which cause the classic symptoms of food poisoning. They can develop within 12 hours up to 3 days and can even last up to 1 week. Most patients that are hospitalised are due to severe dehydration, because of the above symptoms.

OrganismIllnesses per yearDeaths per year (%)
Escherichia coli2,3789
Clostridium perfringens5,1323
Staphylococcus aureus1,2550
Bacillus cereus5510
Vibrio parahaemolyticus2270
Listeria monocytogenes38052
Clostridium botulinum853

So although Salmonella, have caused the most number of illnesses, Listeria monocytogenes is by far the most lethal, killing 52% of patients.

Chicken has been known to have at least 7/10 of the above bacteria truly making it the most unsafe food.

Quick facts about Listeria

Listeria are a naturally occurring bacteria, that live generally harmlessly in the soil, water and natural environment. However, Listeria does have a species that is dangerous to our health, known as Listeria monocytogenes. 

Listeria monocytogenes is a gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium, and are most infamous for surviving and even growing well in refrigeration temperature ranges. This bacterium affects foods such as raw chicken, dairy, processed (deli) meats as well as smoked seafood. This bacteria can also survive in oxygen-poor conditions, meaning even vacuum-packed foods are not free from concerns. This Listeria monocytogenes bacterium is known as an opportunistic pathogen, meaning those that are already ill or have a low immune system are most likely to suffer from an infection.

For starters,  whenever chickens are being gutted, feathers being plucked, etc. in a large factory setting. The intestines in the chicken can rupture. This spreads faecal matter on some of the machinery in the plant and a lot of the other chickens as well.

Because of the living conditions of chickens, this spreading of faecal matter is very dangerous. This causes the spread of disease from one chicken to the entire flock.

Chickens are only treated through the feed that they eat and not through injection like other livestock mammals, such as cows. With the increasing demand for less antibiotic treatment that may transfer to the meat, this practise is being discouraged. Which means more and more bacteria are exposed during the slaughtering process.

Or you can read this article on  Bacterial Contaminants of Poultry Meat: Sources, Species, and Dynamics

Outbreaks of food poisoning are often due to inadequate cooking or recontamination of the poultry after cooking. So cooking chicken completely, especially whole chickens is essential. Storing raw chicken and ready to eat foods is just as important.

Here are 3 quick tips for preventing food poisoning in the kitchen:

Prevent Cross-contamination

Hand washing and good personal hygiene are said to be the number one way to prevent food poisoning. Separating raw and ready-to-eat foods helps prevent cross-contamination where bacteria can get into foods that shouldn’t have them.  Following a colour-coding system also helps prevent contamination during the preparation of foods.

Temperature control

Raw meats and vegetables by design, naturally have a high bacterial load (high amount of bacteria). Which is why we need to cook meats before we can eat them. Download a temperature chart here.


A clean and sanitised kitchen ensures that bacteria doesn’t spread in the kitchen. Using suitable cleaning and sanitising products is necessary to eliminate bacteria.

Check out our article on 3 Easy Ways to Prevent Food Poisoning in the Kitchen for more tips.

According to the CDC, restaurants are most responsible for causing food poisoning above any other sources. With over 33 000 reported causes per year! 8000 cases were reported as coming from the home. Catering or banquet facilities usually have a bad reputation, but account for 18 000 cases. Although very high, were surprised to see that the sit-down restaurants were even worse.

So in conclusion, our summary from the data provided is that chicken served from a sit down restaurant is probably the most unsafe food can consume! This realistically means, that restaurants really need to up their game and implement the food safety pillars as the foundation for food safety system. This also means that there likely needs to be a change in the fast service industry.

Taking this extra few minutes to prepare foods safely is always the better service offering than quick food on the plate.

If you need to know more about food safety check out our book on Food Safety for the Kitchen.Which will take you through the step-by-step procedure to implementing a food safe kitchen. Even for chicken : the most unsafe food.

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