Comparing Pollutant Levels Between Different Diets

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The results of the CHAMACOS (Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) study were published recently. This study of a California birth cohort investigated the relationship between exposure to flame retardant chemical pollutants in pregnancy and childhood, and subsequent neurobehavioral development. Why California? Because California children's exposures to these endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins are among the highest in the world.

What did they find? The researchers concluded that both prenatal and childhood exposures to these chemicals "were associated with poorer attention, fine motor coordination, and cognition" (particularly verbal comprehension) by the time the children reached school age. "This study, the largest to date, contributes to growing evidence suggesting that PBDEs [polybrominated diphenyl ethers, flame retardant chemicals] have adverse impacts on child neurobehavioral development." The effects may extend into adolescence, again affecting motor function as well as thyroid gland function. The effect on our thyroid glands may even extend into adulthood.

These chemicals get into moms, then into the amniotic fluid, and then into the breast milk. The more that's in the milk, the worse the infants' mental development may be. Breast milk is still best, but how did these women get exposed in the first place?

The question has been: Are we exposed mostly from diet or dust? Researchers in Boston collected breast milk samples from 46 first-time moms, vacuumed up samples of dust from their homes, and questioned them about their diets. The researchers found that both were likely to blame. Diet-wise, a number of animal products were implicated. This is consistent with what's been found worldwide. For example, in Europe, these flame retardant chemical pollutants are found mostly in meat, including fish, and other animal products. It's similar to what we see with dioxins--they are mostly found in fish and other fatty foods, with a plant-based diet offering the lowest exposure.

If that's the case, do vegetarians have lower levels of flame retardant chemical pollutants circulating in their bloodstreams? Yes. Vegetarians may have about 25% lower levels. Poultry appears to be the largest contributor of PBDEs. USDA researchers compared the levels in different meats, and the highest levels of these pollutants were found in chicken and turkey, with less in pork and even less in beef. California poultry had the highest, consistent with strict furniture flammability codes. But it's not like chickens are pecking at the sofa. Chickens and turkeys may be exposed indirectly through the application of sewer sludge to fields where feed crops are raised, contamination of water supplies, the use of flame-retarded materials in poultry housing, or the inadvertent incorporation of fire-retardant material into the birds' bedding or feed ingredients.

Fish have been shown to have the highest levels overall, but Americans don't eat a lot of fish so they don't contribute as much to the total body burden in the United States. Researchers have compared the level of PBDEs found in meat-eaters and vegetarians. The amount found in the bloodstream of vegetarians is noticeably lower, as you can see in my video Flame Retardant Pollutants and Child Development. Just to give you a sense of the contribution of chicken, higher than average poultry eaters have higher levels than omnivores as a whole, and lower than average poultry eaters have levels lower than omnivores.

What are the PBDE levels in vegans? We know the intake of many other classes of pollutants is almost exclusively from the ingestion of animal fats in the diet. What if we take them all out of the diet? It works for dioxins. Vegan dioxin levels appear markedly lower than the general population. What about for the flame retardant chemicals? Vegans have levels lower than vegetarians, with those who've been vegan around 20 years having even lower concentrations. This tendency for chemical levels to decline the longer one eats plant-based suggests that food of animal origin contributes substantially. But note that levels never get down to zero, so diet is not the only source.

The USDA researchers note that there are currently no regulatory limits on the amount of flame retardant chemical contamination in U.S. foods, "but reducing the levels of unnecessary, persistent, toxic compounds in our diet is certainly desirable."

I've previously talked about this class of chemicals in Food Sources of Flame Retardant Chemicals. The same foods seem to accumulate a variety of pollutants:

Many of these chemicals have hormone- or endocrine-disrupting effects. See, for example:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Mitchell Haindfield / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Comparing Pollutant Levels Between Different Diets

Comparing Pollutant Levels Between Different Diets.jpeg

The results of the CHAMACOS (Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas) study were published recently. This study of a California birth cohort investigated the relationship between exposure to flame retardant chemical pollutants in pregnancy and childhood, and subsequent neurobehavioral development. Why California? Because California children's exposures to these endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins are among the highest in the world.

What did they find? The researchers concluded that both prenatal and childhood exposures to these chemicals "were associated with poorer attention, fine motor coordination, and cognition" (particularly verbal comprehension) by the time the children reached school age. "This study, the largest to date, contributes to growing evidence suggesting that PBDEs [polybrominated diphenyl ethers, flame retardant chemicals] have adverse impacts on child neurobehavioral development." The effects may extend into adolescence, again affecting motor function as well as thyroid gland function. The effect on our thyroid glands may even extend into adulthood.

These chemicals get into moms, then into the amniotic fluid, and then into the breast milk. The more that's in the milk, the worse the infants' mental development may be. Breast milk is still best, but how did these women get exposed in the first place?

The question has been: Are we exposed mostly from diet or dust? Researchers in Boston collected breast milk samples from 46 first-time moms, vacuumed up samples of dust from their homes, and questioned them about their diets. The researchers found that both were likely to blame. Diet-wise, a number of animal products were implicated. This is consistent with what's been found worldwide. For example, in Europe, these flame retardant chemical pollutants are found mostly in meat, including fish, and other animal products. It's similar to what we see with dioxins--they are mostly found in fish and other fatty foods, with a plant-based diet offering the lowest exposure.

If that's the case, do vegetarians have lower levels of flame retardant chemical pollutants circulating in their bloodstreams? Yes. Vegetarians may have about 25% lower levels. Poultry appears to be the largest contributor of PBDEs. USDA researchers compared the levels in different meats, and the highest levels of these pollutants were found in chicken and turkey, with less in pork and even less in beef. California poultry had the highest, consistent with strict furniture flammability codes. But it's not like chickens are pecking at the sofa. Chickens and turkeys may be exposed indirectly through the application of sewer sludge to fields where feed crops are raised, contamination of water supplies, the use of flame-retarded materials in poultry housing, or the inadvertent incorporation of fire-retardant material into the birds' bedding or feed ingredients.

Fish have been shown to have the highest levels overall, but Americans don't eat a lot of fish so they don't contribute as much to the total body burden in the United States. Researchers have compared the level of PBDEs found in meat-eaters and vegetarians. The amount found in the bloodstream of vegetarians is noticeably lower, as you can see in my video Flame Retardant Pollutants and Child Development. Just to give you a sense of the contribution of chicken, higher than average poultry eaters have higher levels than omnivores as a whole, and lower than average poultry eaters have levels lower than omnivores.

What are the PBDE levels in vegans? We know the intake of many other classes of pollutants is almost exclusively from the ingestion of animal fats in the diet. What if we take them all out of the diet? It works for dioxins. Vegan dioxin levels appear markedly lower than the general population. What about for the flame retardant chemicals? Vegans have levels lower than vegetarians, with those who've been vegan around 20 years having even lower concentrations. This tendency for chemical levels to decline the longer one eats plant-based suggests that food of animal origin contributes substantially. But note that levels never get down to zero, so diet is not the only source.

The USDA researchers note that there are currently no regulatory limits on the amount of flame retardant chemical contamination in U.S. foods, "but reducing the levels of unnecessary, persistent, toxic compounds in our diet is certainly desirable."

I've previously talked about this class of chemicals in Food Sources of Flame Retardant Chemicals. The same foods seem to accumulate a variety of pollutants:

Many of these chemicals have hormone- or endocrine-disrupting effects. See, for example:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations:

Image Credit: Mitchell Haindfield / Flickr. This image has been modified.

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Chocolate Milk – Disease in Disguise

Drinking white cow's milk is unpalatable for most children. As a result, the Dairy Association now actively promotes chocolate milk as "Nutrition in Disguise."

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Why Does the Meat Industry Routinely Feed Animals Antibiotics?

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When farm animals are fed antibiotics, they can develop antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their guts. Manure contamination of meat can then transfer these gut bacteria to humans. These bacteria can even spread to vegetarians, since drug-resistant bacteria in the animal feces can also spread to people through crops or the environment. Exhaust fans can blow MRSA superbugs straight out into the surrounding area from pig or poultry operations. This may explain why human MRSA infections in Europe have been tied to just living in a region with industrial pig production, whether or not people have direct contact with livestock. These findings may not just be limited to Europe.

European factory farms pale in comparison to what we have here in the U.S. From an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association's Internal Medicine: "proximity to swine manure application to crop fields and livestock operations was each associated with MRSA and skin and soft-tissue infections [in people in the U.S]. These findings contribute to the growing concern about the potential public health impacts of high-density livestock production."

An article published in Lancet Infectious Diseases explains that, "achievements in modern medicine, such as surgery, the treatment of preterm babies, and cancer chemotherapy, which we today take for granted, would not be possible without access to effective treatment for bacterial infections. Within just a few years, we might be faced with dire setbacks, medically, socially, and economically, unless real and unprecedented global coordinated actions are immediately taken" to protect these wonder drugs. Therefore, the use of antibiotics just to promote the growth of farm animals to slaughter weights should be banned worldwide. Europe stopped feeding pigs and chickens tetracycline and penicillin to promote growth about 40 years ago, something the U.S. meat industry continues to do to this day.

The Pew Commission recently published a five year update on their landmark blue ribbon commission report on current agricultural practices that found "the present system of producing food animals in the United States presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health." Their number one recommendation was to ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, but agriculture lobbies are not going to give up the use of antibiotics without a fight (See Antibiotics: Agribusinesses' Pound of Flesh).

In December 2013, the FDA released "Guidance for Industry," their voluntary, non-binding recommendation for industry. They recommend antibiotics no longer be used to just fatten animals for slaughter, but emphasize that they are just that: toothless, non-legally enforceable suggestions. As mentioned in the Pew Commission report, "this voluntary approach has come under withering criticism from the public health and medical communities concerned about the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens."

The USDA is even considering going backwards, eliminating the requirement to even test for Staph aureus at all in the Federal School Lunch Program. They understand that "school-aged children are considered a 'sensitive population', hence, more stringent requirements, including sampling plans, may be considered to help assure safety and public confidence. However, the cost of such programs must be weighed against the cost of buying the food needed to support the program."

As one University of Iowa epidemiologist said, "although human health should take priority over farm animals, farmers will be reluctant to change until researchers can come up with safe and cost-effective practices to replace the use of antibiotics." How much are antibiotics really saving the industry? The net bottom-line benefit from the use of antibiotic feed additives may only be about $0.25 per animal, which means eliminating the risky practice of feeding antibiotics by the ton to farm animals would raise the price of meat less than a penny per pound.

For those not familiar with MRSA, please see my past videos on the topic:

For more on antibiotic use on the farm, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: AJC ajcann.wordpress.com / Flickr

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The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Are Intended to Confuse the Public and the Press

The USDA in particular is also compelled to enhance the welfare of "agribusinesses" (the producers of meat, poultry, dairy, egg, fish, and more).

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Does Antioxidant Intake Matter for Cancer?

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The USDA removed their online antioxidant database of foods, "concerned that ORAC values were routinely misused by food and dietary supplement manufacturing companies to promote their products." Indeed, supplement manufacturers got into my-ORAC-is-bigger-than-your-ORAC contests, comparing their pills to the antioxidant superfood du jour, like blueberries. We know there are lots of bioactive compounds in whole plant foods that may help prevent and ameliorate chronic disease in ways that have nothing to do with their antioxidant power, so I understand the USDA's decision. So should we just eat lots of whole healthy plant foods and not worry about which one necessarily has more antioxidants than the other, or does one's dietary antioxidant intake matter?

We have some new data to help answer that question. Researchers recently analyzed total dietary antioxidant capacity and the risk of stomach cancer, the world's second leading cancer killer. A half million people were studied, and dietary antioxidant capacity intake from different sources of plant foods was indeed associated with a reduction in risk. Note that they say dietary intake; they're not talking about supplements.

Not only do antioxidant pills not seem to help, they seem to increase overall mortality--that's like paying to live a shorter life. Just giving high doses of isolated vitamins may cause disturbances in our body's own natural antioxidant network. There are hundreds of different antioxidants in plant foods. They don't act in isolation; they work synergistically. Mother Nature cannot be trapped in a bottle.

Similar results were reported with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma: the more ORAC units we eat per day, the lower our cancer risk drops (though antioxidants or not, green leafy vegetables were particularly protective. Going from eating one serving of green leafy vegetables per week to a serving a day may cut our odds of lymphoma in half).

Should we be worried about antioxidant intake during cancer treatment, since most chemo drugs work by creating free radicals? According to some of the latest reviews, highlighted in my video Food Antioxidants and Cancer, there is no evidence of antioxidant interference with chemotherapy, and antioxidants may actually improve treatment and patient survival.

But should we take a multivitamin? See Should We Take a Multivitamin?

What about fish oil supplements? Is Fish Oil Just Snake Oil?

I recently covered how and why we should strive to eat antioxidants with every meal in an important three-part series:

  1. Minimum "Recommended Daily Allowance" of Antioxidants
  2. How to Reach the Antioxidant "RDA"
  3. Antioxidant Rich Foods With Every Meal

Preferentially getting one's nutrients from produce not pills is a common theme in the nutrition literature. See, for example:

Antioxidants may also slow aging (See Mitochondrial Theory of Aging), reduce inflammation (See Anti-Inflammatory Antioxidants), improve digestion (See Bulking Up on Antioxidants), and help prevent COPD (See Preventing COPD with Diet). So where are antioxidants found? See my series that starts with Antioxidant Content of 3139 Foods and Antioxidant Power of Plant Foods Versus Animal Foods.

What about the role of antioxidants in other leading causes of death? That's the subject of my video, Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Arya Ziai / Flickr

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Peeks Behind the Egg Industry Curtain

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The American Egg Board is a promotional marketing board appointed by the U.S. government whose mission is to "increase demand for egg and egg products on behalf of U.S. egg producers." If an individual egg company wants to run an ad campaign, they can say pretty much whatever they want. But if an egg corporation wants to dip into the 10 million dollars the American Egg Board sets aside for advertising every year, because the board is overseen by the federal government, corporations are not allowed to lie with those funds. This leads to quite revealing exchanges between egg corporations that want to use that money and the USDA on what egg companies can and cannot say about eggs.

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act I was able to get my hands on some of those emails. Of course a lot of what I got were pages with nearly all of the text blacked out (you can see these in my video, Who Says Eggs Aren't Healthy or Safe?). But I did find some illuminating correspondence. For example, one email shows an egg company trying to put out a brochure on healthy snacking for kids. But because of existing laws against false and misleading advertising, the head of the USDA's poultry research and promotion programs reminds the company that eggs or egg products cannot be couched as being healthy or nutritious. "The words nutritious and healthy carry certain connotations, and because eggs have the amount of cholesterol they do, plus the fact that they're not low in fat, [the words healthy and nutritious] are problematic." This is the United States Department of Agriculture saying this!

However, the USDA official helpfully suggests, "I believe you can say something that's just as strong if not stronger, that is 'naturally nutrient-dense.'" Why can we say eggs are nutrient-dense but not nutritious? Because there's no legal definition of nutrient-dense. We can say Twinkies and Coca Cola are nutrient dense, but legally, we can't say something is nutritious unless it's actually... nutritious.

For example, the egg industry wanted to run an ad calling eggs a nutritional powerhouse that aids in weight loss. The USDA had to remind the industry that they can't portray eggs as a diet food because of the fat and cholesterol content. In fact, eggs have nearly twice the calories of anything that can be called "low-calorie."

"Nutritional powerhouse" can't be used either. Fine, the industry said, they'll move to plan B, and headline the ad "Egg-ceptional Nutrition." They couldn't say that either because, again, given the saturated fat and cholesterol you can't legally call eggs nutritious. So the headline ended up as, "Find true satisfaction," and instead of weight loss they had to go with "can reduce hunger." The USDA congratulated them on their cleverness. Yes, a food that when eaten can reduce hunger--what a concept!

They can't even say eggs are "relatively" low in calories. Can't say eggs are low in saturated fat--they're not. Can't say they're relatively low in fat, they're not. Can't even call them a rich source of protein, because, according to the USDA, they're not.

It's illegal to advertise that eggs pack a nutritional wallop, or that they have a high nutritional content. Eggs have so much cholesterol, we can't even say they "contribute nutritionally." Can't say eggs are "healthful," certainly can't say they're "healthy." Can't even say eggs contribute "healthful components."

Since we can't say eggs are a healthy start to the day, the USDA suggests a "satisfying start." Egg corporations can't call eggs a healthy ingredient, but they can call eggs a "recognizable" ingredient. Can't truthfully say eggs are good for us, either. By law, according to the USDA, the egg industry "needs to steer clear of words like 'healthy' or 'nutritious.'"

For a food to be labeled "healthy" under FDA rules, it has to be low in saturated fat (eggs fail that criteria) and have less than 90mg of cholesterol per serving (even half an egg fails that test). For the same reason we can't tout ice cream for strong bones, we can't say eggs are healthy because they exceed the threshold for cholesterol.

Egg corporations aren't even allowed to say things like "Eggs are an important part of a well balanced, healthy diet" on an egg carton because it would be considered misleading according to the USDA's National Egg Supervisor, since eggs contain significant amounts of fat and cholesterol and therefore can contribute to the leading killer in the United States, heart disease.

The industry can't afford to tell the truth about the eggs, or even the hens that lay them. The industry crams five to ten birds in cages the size of a file cabinet their whole lives, but when providing footage to the media, the American Egg Board instructs, "do not show multiple birds in cages--they look too crowded and open us up to activist criticism."

Not only is the industry barred from saying eggs are healthy, they can't even refer to eggs as safe because more than a hundred thousand Americans are food poisoned by Salmonella from eggs every year.

The egg board's response to this egg-borne epidemic is that Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacterium. An internal egg industry memo didn't think that should necessarily be the key message, fearing that "it may be counterproductive by implying there is no avoiding Salmonella in eggs aside from avoiding eggs altogether."

The food poisoning risk is why the American Egg Board can't even mention anything but eggs cooked hard and dry. No soft-boiled, no over-easy, no sunny-side up--because of the Salmonella risk. The American Egg Board's own research showed that the sunny-side up cooking method should be considered "unsafe."

In light of bird flu viruses, both the white and yolk must be cooked firm. The VP of marketing for the Egg Board complained to the USDA saying they'd "really like to not have to dictate that the yolks are firm," and cites a Washington Post article saying runny yolks may be safe for everyone except pregnant women, infants, elderly, or those with chronic disease. It turns out it was a misquote--eggs can't be considered safe for anyone.

Instead of safe, they can call eggs "fresh," the USDA marketing service helpfully suggests. But they can't call eggs safe, and they can't say eggs are "safe to eat." They can't even mention safety at all.

Wait a second, not only can eggs not be called healthy they can't even be called safe? Says who? Says the United States Department of Agriculture.

For more peeks behind the egg industry curtain see:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

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Food Manufacturers Get to Decide if Their Own Additives Are Safe

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In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced their plans to all but eliminate trans fats from processed foods, citing a CDC statistic that the elimination of partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply could prevent more than 10,000 heart attacks and thousands of deaths every year. Up until that point, trans fats enjoyed their so-called "GRAS" status: "Generally Recognized As Safe." How did these killer fats get labeled as safe?

Who decides what's safe? Currently, a "generally recognized as safe" determination is made when the manufacturer of a food substance evaluates the safety of the substance themselves and concludes that the use of the substance is safe. In other words, the company that manufactures the substance gets to determine if it is safe or not. This approach is commonly referred to as "GRAS self-determination." To make matters worse, not only do companies not have to inform the public, they don't even have to inform the FDA. A company may voluntarily tell the FDA they just came up with a new food additive that they've decided is safe, but are not required to do so.

The cumulative result is that there are an estimated 6,000 current affirmative safety decisions which allow for more than an estimated 10,000 substances to be used in food (See Who Determines if Food Additives are Safe?). In addition, an estimated 1,000 manufacturer safety decisions are never reported to FDA or the public. "Manufacturers and a trade association made the remaining decisions without FDA review by concluding on their own that the substances that they themselves were selling were safe."

While manufacturers are not required to notify the FDA of a "safe determination," sometimes they do voluntarily notify the agency. From these notifications, researchers have been able to see which individuals companies select to make these determinations. Of the 451 GRAS notifications voluntarily submitted to the FDA, 22.4% were made by someone directly employed by the company; 13.3% were made by someone directly employed by a firm hand-picked by the company; and 64.3% were made by a panel hand-picked by the corporation or the firm the corporation hired. Are you doing the math? Yes, that means zero safety decisions were made independently.

An astonishing 100% of the members of expert panels worked directly or indirectly for the companies that manufactured the food additive in question. And those are just the ones the food companies let the FDA know about. The companies also used the same in-the-pocket rent-a-scientist "experts" over and over, leading food industry watchdog Marion Nestle to ask "How is it possible that the FDA permits manufacturers to decide for themselves whether their food additives are safe?" It may be because many of the companies providing our daily food are corporate giants with "political muscles that national governments would envy." PepsiCo alone spent more than $9 million in a single year to lobby Congress. The fact that food additives like trans fats have been allowed to kill thousands of Americans year after year comes as less of a surprise to those who realize that "three of Washington's largest lobbying firms reportedly now work for the food industry."

I've got three dozen videos on food additives. Here are a few highlights:

Artificial Colors:

Phosphates:

Preservatives:

Sweeteners:

Others:

Just as the food additive industry gets to decide which food additives are safe, the food industry holds sway over which foods are considered safe. See, for example, my video The McGovern Report.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: John Fischer / Flickr

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Meat Industry Wins Right to Sell Tainted Meat

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In my last post, I talked about a particularly virulent strand of Salmonella traced to Foster Farms. But while even Mexico banned the importation of Foster Farms' chicken on public health grounds, it was still sold in the United States. Why wasn't there a recall? How could Foster Farms continue to legally sell chicken contaminated with this virulent strain of Salmonella? It all goes back to Supreme Beef v. USDA, a court case in which the meat industry sued the USDA after they had the audacity to try to shut down a slaughter plant that was repeatedly found violating Salmonella standards. The meat industry won. The Federal Appeals Court ruled that it wasn't illegal to sell contaminated meat; what was illegal was the USDA trying to protect the public by shutting down the plant. Because normal cooking practices destroy Salmonella, the presence of Salmonella in meat does not render the meat "injurious to health." Salmonella-infected meat is thus legal to sell to the consumer.

We can get infected no matter how well the meat is cooked though. According to researchers, even though consumers "may eliminate Salmonella on ready-to-cook chicken by proper cooking, they could still be exposed to and acquire a Salmonella infection from cross-contamination of other foods with Salmonella from raw chicken during meal preparation." If we measure the transfer rate from naturally contaminated poultry legs purchased in supermarkets to cutting boards in the kitchen, overall, 80% of the leg skins in contact with the cutting board for ten minutes transferred Campylobacter (another dangerous bacteria found in chicken feces) infection to the cutting board. And then if we put cooked chicken back on that same cutting board, there's about a 30% chance it too will become contaminated.

Even though people know that washing hands can decrease the risk of food poisoning, only about 2/3 say they actually do it. Even though most people know about cross contamination, 1/3 don't even say they wash their cutting boards. Though awareness appears to be growing, even when people wash the cutting boards with hot soapy water we can still find Salmonella and Campylobacter (see Avoiding Chicken to Avoid Bladder Infections). The reason most people have more bacteria from feces in their kitchen than their bathroom is because people rinse their chickens in the sink, not the toilet .

Foster Farms swore they'd try to reduce the number of chickens they were producing with this virulent strain of Salmonella from 1 in 4 to just 1 in 20. Why not a zero tolerance policy in countries such as Sweden? Because then, as the head of food safety for Costco noted, "you wouldn't have a poultry industry."

Other countries have been able to raise chickens without Salmonella. One industry-funded scientist complained that if the entire onus to produce safe products is placed on industry, "it then gives the consumer no personal responsibility to handle their product correctly." That's like a car company saying we can't make safe cars because then no one will wear a seat belt.

I've touched on this topic before in my videos Salmonella in Chicken and Turkey Deadly but Not Illegal, Zero Tolerance to Acceptable Risk, and Unsafe at Any Feed.

More on the issue of cross-contamination in:

Note when it comes to egg-borne infection the issue is not just cross-contamination, given Salmonella can survive the most common egg cooking methods. Check out my video Total Recall.

Though some meat additives may make meat safer (Viral Meat Spray and Maggot Meat Spray), others may increase the food safety risk. See my video Phosphate Additives in Chicken.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videoshere and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Danny Huizinga / Flickr

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Chicken Salmonella Outbreaks Show Food Safety Systems Failure

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Salmonella causes more hospitalizations and more deaths than any other foodborne illness, and it's been on the rise. Salmonella causes a million cases of food poisoning every year in the U.S., and over the last decade or so the number of cases has increased by 44%, particularly among children and the elderly. And chicken is the number one cause of Salmonella poisoning.

Starting in Spring 2012, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) documented more than 600 individuals infected across 29 states with a particularly virulent strain of Salmonella (one in three were hospitalized). Investigations pointed to Foster Farms--the sixth largest chicken producer in the US--as the most likely source of the outbreak. The CDC warned people, but nothing was done. Foster Farms apparently continued to pump out contaminated meat for 17 months.

Though there's only been a few hundred cases confirmed, for every confirmed case the CDC estimates 38 cases slip through the cracks. So Foster Farms chicken may have infected and sickened more than 15,000 people.

When USDA inspectors went to investigate, they found 25% of the chicken they sampled was contaminated with the outbreak strain of Salmonella, presumed to be because of all the fecal matter they found on the carcasses.

In their February 2014 issue, Consumer Reports published a study on the high cost of cheap chicken, finding 97% of retail chicken breast off store shelves was contaminated with bacteria that can make people sick. 38% of the salmonella they found was resistant to multiple antibiotics (considered a serious public health threat by the CDC). Consumer Reports suggested the cramped conditions on factory chicken farms may play a role, and indeed new research shows the stress of overcrowding can increase Salmonella invasion.

The Pew Commission released a special report on the Foster Farms outbreaks, concluding that the outbreaks bring into sharp focus the ineffectiveness of USDA's approach to minimizing Salmonella contamination in poultry products. The agency's response "was inadequate to protect public health," and to this day thousands of people are getting sick with this preventable foodborne illnesses. One of the Pew Commission's recommendations is to close facilities that are failing to produce safe food and keep them closed until their products stop sending people to the hospital.

What did Foster Farms have to say for itself? They said that their chicken was "safe to eat," that there's "no recall in effect," and that it is "Grade A wholesome." In the same breath, though, they say Salmonella on chicken happens all the time. Their chicken is "Grade A wholesome," but might kill us if we don't handle it right. (See Foster Farms Responds to Chicken Salmonella Outbreak).

As outspoken food safety advocate Bill Marler put it, the poultry industry's reaction to the presence of fecal contamination on chicken is that... sh*t happens.

Salmonella contamination is also a problem in the U.S. egg supply, sickening more than 100,000 people every year. See my video Total Recall.

Other pathogens in meat include Yersinia enterocolitica in pork (Yersinia in Pork), Staphylococcus (U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph), MRSA (MRSA in U.S. Retail Meat), Hepatitis E (Hepatitis E Virus in Pork), bladder-infecting E coli (Avoiding Chicken To Avoid Bladder Infections), Clostridium difficile (Toxic Megacolon Superbug), and Campylobacter, the most common bacterial chicken pathogen (Poultry and Paralysis).

Poultry appears to cause the most outbreaks, but is all chicken to blame equally? See my video Superbugs in Conventional vs. Organic Chicken.

How was it legal for Foster Farms to continue to ship our meat known to be contaminated with a dangerous pathogen? See my videos Why is selling Salmonella tainted chicken still legal? and Chicken Salmonella Thanks to Meat Industry Lawsuit.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day,and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: zoomar / Flickr

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