Study Shows: Organic Chicken and Eggs Have Lower Salmonella Risk
Did you know chicken eggs are inherently germ-free? Bacteria can get into an egg through a crack in the shell, of course, but even then the egg white has three proteins that work in tandem to protect the egg. So how come there are frequent salmonella recalls on eggs?
The answer is simple: chickens sick with salmonella are laying eggs that are also infected with salmonella. There are certain ways in which the shell of the egg can be infected with salmonella poisoning, as well:
- When an egg comes into contact with a chicken that is sick with salmonella
- When an egg comes into contact with the carcass of a chicken that has died from salmonella
While further study is warranted, in November 2010 a study conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia, Ohio State University, and North Caroline State University detected a much lower incidence of salmonella poisoning in free range organic chickens than in conventionally grown chickens.
How low? Low enough that it should help consumers make an educated decision to choose organic free range chickens rather than caged poultry when next they choose meat and eggs for their families.
The Organic, Free Range Difference
Free range organic chickens are chickens that are raised true to their ecological fingerprint on a non-chemically treated diet. Chicken and other fowl are natural grazers. When organic chickens are allowed free range they have the opportunity to eat a variety of bugs, berries, seeds, plants and worms as well as add pebbles and gravel to their gizzards to help create hard eggshells.
Caged chickens are primarily fed animal byproducts and grain treated with pesticides. Their diet and the tight quarters they are forced to live in fattens them up unnaturally fast, but they are less healthy and less nutritious than their counterparts who are allowed to roam and graze on the diet their body was designed for.
Further, caged or battery chickens become so frustrated with their environment that they often become fight amongst themselves unmercifully. Because there are up to four chickens penned in one small cage, they will defend their territory to the death if need be.
To prevent a chicken from bestowing severe damage to its cellmates and vice-versa, poultry owners often remove a portion of the chickens’ beaks. Within their short two-year lifespan many of the caged chickens that live that long end up featherless from fighting jags and from pulling their own feathers out due to the emotional and agitated state they are forced to live in.
Free range chickens pretty much go about their business as usual, day in and day out. They return to the chicken coop to lay eggs and for shelter during rainy or cold weather and for safety during the night hours. Their life is a far cry from the existence their cousins in cages live.
Salmonella Statistics: Organic Vs. Conventional Chicken
In addition to having happy chickens, it’s important to also have healthy chickens, which is where the University of Georgia’s Center for Food Study report comes in: happier chickens appear to be healthier chickens.
The free range organic chickens also had some cases of salmonella, but the numbers were very low. Only 5.6 percent of the free range organic chickens exhibited signs of salmonella poisoning compared with 38.8 percent of the conventionally caged chickens which had salmonella poisoning. Food from free range organic chickens showed that only five percent carried the salmonella pathogen, while a whopping 27.5 percent of the conventionally fed samples were found to be infected with salmonella.
The bottom line is this: if your chicken dinner or omelet started out in a battery or caged prison, it’s time to call FOUL. Chickens sick with salmonella poisoning can and often do pass bacteria on inside their eggs. To make matters worse, 39.7 percent of the sick caged chickens in the study also showed resistance to up to six different strains of antibiotics.
Organic Labeling Requirements
To be fair, in this particular study, the organic birds were also housed part of the time. However, in order to label poultry organic, the USDA poultry standards for organic poultry must be met. The rules include the following:
- Organic chickens are allowed time outside to graze, get adequate sunlight, exercise and fresh air, and basically to act like normal chickens.
- Organic chickens are not given antibiotics or other drugs.
- Organic chickens are allowed larger cages of at least 1.5 feet per chicken. (Presumably there are fewer chickens per cage, as well.)
- Supplemental chicken feed does not include “animal slaughter” waste and/or byproducts.