You may think the chicken you buy at the farmers market is healthier for you than store-bought, but a new study suggests it could have more bacteria.
The study by Pennsylvania State University analyzed both grocery store and farmers market chickens bought throughout Pennsylvania. Researchers bought 100 whole, uncooked chickens, half of which were organic, from stores, and 100 from farmers markets, Food Safety News reported.
The chickens were tested for salmonella and campylobacter, two types of bacteria that can cause food poisoning. (Thorough cooking kills both kinds, but you need to be careful about spreading the bacteria during preparation and handling.)
The farmers market chickens were the most contaminated: 90 percent tested positive for campylobacter and 28 percent had salmonella. The non-organic grocery store chickens had the least salmonella -- just 8 percent tested positive -- but 52 percent carried campylobacter. Of the organic chickens, 20 percent tested positive for salmonella and 28 percent for campylobacter.
The findings, published online in the Journal of Food Safety, "suggest that [farmers market] vendors could greatly benefit from food safety training and education," the authors wrote, such as using antimicrobial rinses on raw chickens to reduce bacteria levels before they're sold.
The study, although limited in size, was meant to caution consumers who assume that locally produced foods carry no risk, lead researcher Catherine Cutter, professor of food science, told Penn State News. "Some people believe that local food is safer, but we want to caution that's not always the case," she said.
Both salmonella and campylobacter are destroyed by proper cooking, but they also can cause cross-contamination if the raw chicken comes in contact with other foods, or contaminates cutting boards, sinks, countertops or kitchen utensils.
To avoid food-borne illness, follow these tips from Los Angeles Times food editor Russ Parsons:
- When cooking chicken, make sure work areas and tools are kept thoroughly scrubbed. And don't forget to wash your hands!
- Use different cutting boards for meat and other items.
- Chicken should be thoroughly cooked.
- Don't use the same platter to carry raw chicken on the way to be cooked and cooked chicken on the way to be served without washing the platter with soap in between.
Also of Interest
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