The Problem with Chicken
Directed by Rick Young (2015)
This documentary can’t be embedded but can be viewed free at the following link:
The Problem with Chicken is a PBS Frontline documentary about a year-long Salmonella Heidelberg epidemic in 2012 that infected more than 600 people in 29 states.
Salmonella Heidelberg is a particularly virulent form of salmonella that is increasingly prevalent in factory farmed chicken, as well as increasingly antibiotic resistant. Salmonella Heidelberg infection frequently results in hospitalization and occasionally death.
The film examines a hopelessly corrupt regulatory system in which the USDA* inspectors test whole birds, but not chicken pieces (the most common source of salmonella infections) and in which the USDA couldn’t compel Foster Farms to recall their contaminated chickens until they located an an unopened pack of Foster Farms chicken with the specific strain of Salmonella Heidelberg that had infected a specific chicken.
This obscure legal technicality meant that despite clear DNA evidence identifying Foster Farms as the source of contamination, an outbreak that could have been stemmed in a few weeks went on a full year and officially sickened 634 people.
The Problem with Chicken also explodes the chicken lobby myth that chicken-related infections can be prevented by proper cooking and handling of chicken. Studies show that thorough cooking doesn’t kill either salmonella or campylobacter, another human pathogen commonly carried by chicken.
The main shortcoming of this documentary is its failure to examine why potentially deadly pathogens are increasing in factory farmed chicken: namely the process in which battery chicken are raised in a cesspool of feces in tightly packed cages and continually fed antibiotics (the main source of increasing antibiotic resistance). See Food Inc.
Surely these are the practices that need to be banned by regulation. It’s ridiculous to expect that a few hundred USDA inspectors are going to protect us from food-borne illnesses by spot checking hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens for pathogenic organisms.
*The US Department of Agriculture is the federal agency responsible for guaranteeing food safety.
Photo credit: איתמר ק., ITamar K. (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons