Outraged by Pink Slime? Actually, Chicken Could Be a Much Bigger Risk

The product is "so covered in bacteria that researchers at the University of Arizona found more fecal bacteria in the kitchen -- on sponges and dish towels, and in the sink drain -- than they found swabbing the toilet." Thank God, one of nation's top producers of "lean, finely textured beef" (a.k.a. Pink Slime!) went bankrupt. Actually, that first line wasn't talking about pink slime, which some say is actually safer than untreated ground beef according to food safety advocates. That line was talking about a much bigger safety threat: White Slime (a.k.a. chicken). Mark Bittman, reflecting on chicken in the New York Times noted: "Bill Marler, a leading food safety lawyer, told me he assumes that 'almost all chicken and turkey produced in the U.S. is tainted with a bacteria that can kill you.'" That's a fair assumption: According to Consumer Reports, "two-thirds [of store-bought chickens] harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of foodborne disease." As Men's Health magazine colorfully notes: "It's a wonder broilers don't come with barf bags." Public health expert Dr. Michael Greger offers this more graphic description, which I tagged in my opening line:

Chicken carcasses are so covered in bacteria that researchers at the University of Arizona found more fecal bacteria in the kitchen -- on sponges and dish towels, and in the sink drain -- than they found swabbing the toilet. In a meat-eater's house it may be safer to lick the rim of the toilet seat than the kitchen countertop, because people aren't preparing chickens in their toilets. Chicken 'juice' is essentially raw fecal soup.

You might want to read that last paragraph again: Basically, researchers found more poop in people's kitchens than the found in their toilets. "Chicken 'juice' is essentially raw fecal soup." Remarkably, chicken is about to become even more disgusting: The USDA has removed government inspectors from more than 20 plants and wants to fire another 800 safety inspectors -- putting the poultry industry in charge of monitoring itself (yes, seriously). According to Food & Water Watch, the plants the are currently self-inspecting have ratcheted up line speeds to almost 200 birds per minute (so more than three birds per second), and evidence is that if the system goes national, we'll see "more defective and unsanitary poultry contaminated with feathers, bile and feces." The entire FWW report is worth reading, but I'll just tell you that the "inspection category that had the highest error rate [involved] feathers, lungs, oil glands, trachea and bile still on the carcass. The average error rate for this category in the chicken slaughter facilities was 64 percent... In one turkey slaughter facility, nearly 100 percent of samples found this category of defect." Yum. There's a real dispute about the safety of pink slime -- not so of chicken. According to Dr. Greger, campylobacter "can trigger arthritis, heart and blood infections, and a condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome that can leave people permanently disabled and paralyzed... With the virtual elimination of polio, the most common cause of neuromuscular paralysis in the United States now comes from eating chicken." And salmonella?

Within 12 to 72 hours of infection the fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps start. If the victim is lucky it's over within a week. If not, the bacteria can burrow through the intestinal wall and infect the bloodstream, seeding its way to other organs, including the heart, bones, and brain... Salmonella kills more Americans than any other food borne illness.

Furthermore, "one exposure can now trigger persistent irritable bowel syndrome and what's called reactive arthritis, which can become a debilitating lifelong condition of swollen painful joints."

If we as a nation became alarmed in proper proportion to things that are concerning, white slime would be a much bigger concern than pink slime, and it would be Tyson Foods that was filing for bankruptcy, in addition to the makers of "pink slime."