December 19/Washington/Consumer Reports -- Two reports released by the Pew Charitable Trust andConsumer Reports say the threat of salmonella and other bacteria in store-bought chicken is far greater than previously expected.

Consumer Reports tested 300 store-bought chicken breasts, including samples labeled antibiotic-free and organic, and found contamination in almost all of them. Those included major brands Perdue, Pilgrim’s, Sanderson Farms, and Tyson.

Both reports cited recent salmonella outbreaks in Washington, Oregon and California. The Pew report says the federal government lacks the power to adequately protect public health.

Consumer Reports stated that food-borne illnesses sicken 48 million people and kills 3,000 in the U.S every year. Pew says that more deaths were connected to food-borne illnesses from poultry each year than to any other food product.

Consumer Reports research shows the 2013 outbreak of salmonella was caused by an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria.

“In that case 389 people were infected, and 40% of them were hospitalized, double the usual percentage in most outbreaks linked to salmonella," the report says.

The report cites a “scary" rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria commonly found in chicken.

Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacterium and can be killed when chicken is cooked above 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Pew also investigated the West Coast outbreaks that originated from three Foster Farms chicken processing plants in California.

In both cases, Pew says the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service failed to issue a recall despite the fact they knew where the outbreak was coming from.

The report "identified significant weaknesses in existing federal regulations and policies aimed at controlling salmonella contamination in poultry products."

Pew recommended that the FSIS should:

  • Conduct unannounced salmonella testing
  • Close facilities under investigation for failing to produce safe food, and keep them closed until adequate control measures are in place
  • Be given mandatory recall authority