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Half of store-bought chicken contains superbugs

Thursday - 12/19/2013, 12:44pm  ET

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Foster Farms chicken is seen for sale in a grocery store in Los Angeles, Calif. Oct. 8, 2013. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that it had issued a public health alert after raw chicken products produced by Foster Farms have sickened hundreds of people, the majority of whom are in California. Approximately 278 illnesses, caused by strains of Salmonella Heidelberg, were reported in 18 states. No deaths have been linked to the continuing outbreak. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

What kind of chicken should you be buying?

Urvashi Rangan, director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability for Consumer Reports

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WASHINGTON - About 97 percent of raw chicken breasts tested in a nationwide survey carried bacteria dangerous to humans, according to a Consumer Reports analysis released Thursday.

The group tested more than 300 chicken breasts purchased from major grocery chains, big-box stores and regional markets in 26 states. Each of the major brands tested -- Perdue, Pilgrim's, Sanderson Farms and Tyson -- contained "worrisome amounts of bacteria," the report says, including chicken labeled as organic or not containing antibiotics.

Also, more than half of the poultry was tainted with fecal contaminants, including enterococcus and E. Coli, which can cause blood and urinary-tract infections.

Of the chicken surveyed, almost 50 percent carried antibiotic-resistant "superbug" bacteria, and 11 percent had two types of bacteria resistant to multiple drugs.

The National Chicken Council responded to the report Thursday afternoon.

"We take the safety of our chicken very seriously," says Mike Brown, the organization's president, in a statement. "After all, our families are eating the same chicken as you and yours."

From 2001 to 2010 outbreaks related to E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogens decreased by more than 40 percent, the poultry organization says.

Salmonella in chickens has decreased by 55 percent in the last five years, the council says.

Americans buy an estimated 83 pounds of poultry per capita annually, and about 48 million people fall sick from salmonella, campylobacter, E. coli and other contaminants.

"More deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity," reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consumer Reports is calling for more stringent food oversight. It urges the Food and Drug Administration to prohibit antibiotic use in food animals and says the Agriculture Department should set levels for allowable salmonella and campylobacter bacteria in poultry.

Click here to see the full report.

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