Forget Pink Slime, What about Poopy Chicken?


In the last couple of months, the outrage over “safer” beef known as pink slime has been overwhelming, but what about chicken? A shocking report was just released by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) on fecal contamination in retail chicken. In the report, the PCRM uncovered that nearly half the chicken tested was contaminated with feces. The poultry industry has yet to develop methods to make sure the chicken slaughter process doesn’t result in fecal contamination of the chicken. An independent analytical testing laboratory did the testing with chicken from 15 grocery store chains in 10 major cities. Kroger brand actually had 100 percent of their samples test positive for feces. Is chicken really that good that we don’t mind a little feces with it?

What’s the Problem?

Before we all freak out, let’s take a closer look at what’s happening. Everyone knows to cook chicken to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill pathogens that may have contaminated it, including feces. So, what’s the problem? The problem is the feces is there when the chicken is purchased and everything that raw chicken touches before it is cooked is leaving just a little of its “poop” behind, including on a cutting board, knife, hands, etc. This leads to cross-contamination and foodborne illness. Even after the chicken is fully cooked, the feces are still there, but this probably won’t make you sick.

Why Can’t Inspections Prevent This?

This report comes at the time when federal officials are looking for ways to save money on poultry inspections. Currently, USDA inspectors inspect about 35 chickens a minute. They are checking for bile, feces and other forms of contamination. Under the new program, the USDA would leave the inspecting up to private companies. These companies actually claim to be able to inspect 175 chickens a minute. How is that possible? Let’s do the math. USDA inspectors can check 35 chickens a minute with a result of almost half contaminated with feces entering the market, and they want the poultry industry to regulate themselves. This most certainly will lead to a much higher percentage of feces-laced chicken in our supermarkets.

Where Are the Standards?

Clearly, the USDA and the poultry industry consider feces in our chicken as just part of the business. By labeling proper cooking and handling instructions on all raw chicken, they think they are off the hook. In the FDA Food Code, however, any food that contains any form of contamination is considered Adulterated and it shouldn’t be served in restaurants. Why is it the customer’s responsibility to UN-Adulterate this product by cooking it? The poultry industry has to raise their standards and concede that having nearly 50 percent of its product contaminated with feces is unacceptable. Unfortunately, the only way this will happen is a public outcry, much like what we saw with the pink slime scandal. It’s so ironic that pink slime, which is more or less considered safer beef, is thought of as a harmful product, not poopy chicken. There should probably be an added label that reads: “WARNING: this product has a 50 percent chance of containing poop.” Only then will the USDA consider raising its standards.

It’s Time for a Change

Right now, there is a petition on to keep the USDA from putting the whole poultry inspection program in the hands of private industry. With recent developments of industry auditors not doing their jobs adequately, it’s safe to say that this is a bad idea. However, what about a petition asking for our chicken not to contain poop? Is that too much to ask?

Originally published 4.23.12


  1. I’d sign that petition!

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