Tainted Chicken Link to UTI Adds to Need for Better Oversight

As if we needed another reason to improve poultry safety oversight. According to a study published Wednesday, contaminated chicken is a likely cause of urinary tract infections (UTIs). After researchers showed in 2010 that the most common cause of infections – E. coli– could originate in food, scientists in Canada tested meat products for a potential link.

From the Los Angeles Times:

[The scientists] found that the bacteria from beef and pork were far less likely to be genetically related to human urinary tract infection bacteria strains than chicken, which were closely related.

Proper kitchen handling and cooking of chicken can reduce the chances of E. coli infection. But, Manges said: "the many examples of foodborne outbreaks that occur regularly makes it clear that we still have problems with food safety."

The strong link between E. coli-tainted chicken and urinary tract infections provides another reason to ensure adequate food safety oversight. Budget concerns remain an issue, while the USDA continues to emphasize consumer responsibility in safe food handling practices.  

But industry shouldn’t get a free pass. Outbreaks continue, as does the overuse of antibiotics in poultry production and other animal agriculture, which is linked to the dramatic increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria – making infections like UTIs (or worse) more difficult to treat. Yet the government remains stagnant on regulating producers’ contribution to this ongoing problem or even reporting detailed statistics on current antibiotic use in agriculture.

Another concern is the ability of inspectors to identify poultry contamination under an expanded pilot program that would increase line speeds at production facilities. USDA inspectors would have just over ¼ of a second to inspect each bird for fecal contamination or diseased carcasses. That’s not very reassuring.

Given the lack of adequate whistleblower protections for poultry industry workers on top of these added health risks of potentially tainted chicken, it would appear that regulators need to step up their game.

This post originally appeared at FoodWhistleblower.org. Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.