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Your ready-to-cook chicken may contain a dangerous pathogen, study shows

Worse, four out of every five Salmonella strains found in the chicken were resistant to antibiotics, a result of indiscriminate use of the medicines by poultry producers.

mumbai Updated: Aug 21, 2017 17:04 IST
Snehal Fernandes
Snehal Fernandes
Hindustan Times
Frozen poultry was less likely to be contaminated, according to the study.(HT FILE)

Ready-to-cook chicken and raw meat stored above freezing point is likely to be contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria that causes acute food poisoning, a study by a leading state-run institute has found.

The study by the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre’s food techonology division tested 87 samples from supermarkets and departmental stores in Mumbai. The study, Salmonella in Indian ready-to-cook poultry: antibiotic resistance and molecular characterisation’, was published in Microbiology Research, an international online-only peer reviewed journal.

More than 50% of the 48 samples of minimally processed and raw meat samples stored at 8-10°C were found to be contaminated, the study showed. The study did not name the brands of chicken tested.

Though the sample size is small, it provided an insight into the way poultry is sold in the retail market in India, where chicken is the most favoured meat for millions of people. Reuters quoted a report by the US department of agriculture (USDA) as saying that consumption of processed chicken meat in India was rising 20% annually.

The researchers did not comment about the study.

The report also said that four of every five Salmonella strains found in the chicken were resistant to antibiotics, attributed to alleged misuse of antibiotics to promote growth by poultry farmers.

The tested ready-to-cook (RTC) samples included boneless chicken, drumsticks, sausages, cutlets, nuggets, salami slices, sheekh kebab.

  • The Food Technology Division and Radiation Biology and Health Science Division, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre conducted tests for the presence of salmonella on 87 chilled and frozen read-to-cook (RTC) poultry samples of four brands from super markets and departmental stores in Mumbai.
  • Chilled RTC samples comprised mixed boneless chicken, leg cut, pre-cut, soup pieces, kheema, assorted cut pieces, lollipops or drumsticks.
  • Frozen RTC samples included sausages, kheema, cutlet, nuggets, tandoori chicken nuggets, tandoori chicken tikka, chicken samosa, salami slices, sheekh kebab, burger patty, lollipops, and spring roll. These samples also contained ingredients such as flour, onion, water, spices and condiments such as coriander leaves, garlic, ginger, red chilli powder, coriander powder, curry powder, turmeric powder, green chili, kasoori methi, edible vegetable oils, soya bean granules, iodized salt, and acidity regulator.
  • Researchers said indiscriminate abuse of existing antibiotics in both clinical and veterinary treatment in recent years has led to proliferation of antibiotic resistance in microbes, posing a dilemma for the future treatment of such bacterial infection.
  • The study ‘Salmonella in Indian ready-to-cook poultry: antibiotic resistance and molecular characterization was done by Raj Kamal Gautam, Aarti S. Kakatkar, Manisha N. Karani, Shashidhar R. and Jayant R. Bandekar.

Another expert who has seen the report said, “The consumption of frozen RTC poultry products is safer than chilled RTC poultry products, as temperature plays a significant role in development or growth of salmonella.”

The contamination was lower in frozen poultry because freezing (storing at 0 to minus 20 °C) stops the bacteria from multiplying.

The study by a five-member team said, “Good hygienic and manufacturing practices, and the inclusion of international quality standards like ‘hazard analysis and critical control points’ must be followed by poultry farmers, industry and processors right from the poultry farm until the end of retail marketing without temperature abuse and tampering of packaging materials.”

“Though most of the food in India is cooked thoroughly in India, bacteria very often cross-contaminate the kitchen platforms, cooking and serving utensils,” it added.

Dr Sumanth Gandra, an expert with the US-based Center for Disease Dynamics’ New Delhi’s office -- who was not involved in the study -- said the focus should be on processes that prevent contamination at poultry farms, good handling and processing practices by the industry, and stringent surveillance by authorities.

“In the US, contamination was 9% in 2014 in retail meat compared to India’s more than 50%. We don’t know what practices are being followed in India, and have to question it,” said Gandra.

A member from the Poultry Federation of India, an umbrella body of chicken farmers, denied any laxity at the farms.

“We are not careless and take utmost care while handling and managing chicken at the farms since we know its for human consumption. Chicken could also get contaminated with salmonella while processing or storing it,” the member said seeking anonymity.

“As for using antibiotics, we work with national and international laboratories, and some antibiotics are not used for humans.”

Salmonella infections cause gastroenteritis, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, headache, fever and chills.

First Published: Aug 21, 2017 12:46 IST