What foodborne organisms are associated with meat and poultry?

Nov 12, 2015

As on any perishable meat, fish or poultry, bacteria can be found on raw or undercooked chicken. They multiply rapidly at temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F (4.4 °C and 60 °C) -- out of refrigeration and before thorough cooking occurs. Freezing doesn’t kill bacteria but they are destroyed by thorough cooking.

USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has a zero tolerance for certain pathogens, including Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, in cooked and ready-to-eat products, such as chicken franks or lunch meat, that can be eaten without further cooking.

Most foodborne illness outbreaks are a result of improper handling or contamination when meals are prepared. Sanitary food handling and proper cooking and refrigeration should prevent foodborne illnesses.

Bacteria must be consumed on food to cause foodborne illness. They cannot enter the body through a skin cut. However, raw poultry must be handled carefully to prevent cross-contamination. This can occur if raw poultry or its juices come in contact with cooked food or foods that will be eaten raw, such as salad. An example of this is using a cutting board to chop raw chicken and then using the same board to chop tomatoes without washing the board first.

What foodborne organisms are associated with beef?

Escherichia coli can colonize in the intestines of animals, which could contaminate muscle meat at slaughter. E. coli O157:H7 is a rare strain that produces large quantities of a potent toxin that forms in and causes severe damage to the lining of the intestine. The disease produced by it is called Hemorrhagic Colitis and is characterized by bloody diarrhea. E. coli O157:H7 is easily destroyed by thorough cooking.

Salmonella may be found in the intestinal tracts of livestock, poultry, dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals. There are about 2,000 Salmonella bacterial species. Freezing doesn't kill this microorganism, but it is destroyed by thorough cooking. Salmonella must be eaten to cause illness. They cannot enter the body through a skin cut. Cross-contamination can occur if raw meat or its juices contact cooked food or foods that will be eaten raw, such as salad.

Staphylococcus aureus can be carried on human hands, nasal passages, or throats. Most foodborne illness outbreaks are a result of contamination from food handlers and production of a heat-stable toxin in the food. Sanitary food handling and proper cooking and refrigerating should prevent staphylococcal foodborne illness.

Listeria monocytogenes is destroyed by cooking, but a cooked product can be recontaminated by poor handling practices and poor sanitation. FSIS has a zero tolerance for Listeria monocytogenes in cooked and ready-to-eat products such as beef franks or lunchmeat. Observe handling information such as "Keep Refrigerated" and "Use-By" dates on labels.

What foodborne organisms are associated with pork?

Today's pork can be safely enjoyed when cooked to an internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.

Some other foodborne micro-organisms that can be found in pork, as well as other meats and poultry, are Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia enterocolitica and Listeria monocytogenes. People can become infected with these bacteria by consuming raw or undercooked pork, or from the cross-contamination of food contact surfaces, such as countertops, cutting boards, utensils. These bacteria are all destroyed by proper handling and thorough cooking.

Chitterlings (made of large intestine of swine) can be contaminated with the bacteria Yersinia enterocolitica, which can cause a diarrheal illness called "yersiniosis." For more information, see our fact sheet: Yersiniosis and Chitterlings: Tips to Protect You and Those You Care for from Foodborne Illness.

What foodborne organisms are associated with raw chicken?

Salmonella Enteritidis may be found in the intestinal tracts of livestock, poultry, dogs, cats, and other warm-blooded animals. This strain is only 1 of about 2,000 kinds of Salmonella bacteria; it is often associated with poultry and shell eggs. FSIS requires poultry establishments to meet Salmonella performance standards as a means of verifying that production systems are effective in controlling contamination by this pathogenic organism. Agency inspection personnel conduct Salmonella testing in poultry establishments to verify compliance with the Salmonella standard.

Staphylococcus aureus can be carried on human hands, in nasal passages, or in throats. The bacteria are found in foods made by hand and then improperly refrigerated, such as chicken salad.

Campylobacter jejuni is one of the most common causes of diarrheal illness in humans. Preventing cross-contamination and using proper cooking methods reduces infection by this bacterium. As with Salmonella, FSIS requires poultry establishments to meet Campylobacter performance standards and conduct in-plant testing to verify compliance.

Listeria monocytogenes was recognized as causing human foodborne illness in 1981. It is destroyed by cooking, but a cooked product can be contaminated by improper handling or poor sanitary practices in food preparation and storage areas. The risk from L. monocytogenes can increase when it has the opportunity to grow on a food product in storage, so take care to observe “keep refrigerated” and “use-by” dates on labels. FSIS requires establishments producing ready-to-eat (RTE) poultry products, such as deli meats and hot dogs, to maintain a system of controls that destroy or suppress the growth of the organism. FSIS verifies that controls are in place and effective at controlling the organism.

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a type of bacteria that normally live in the intestines of animals and humans. There are hundreds of different kinds, or strains, of E. coli some of which can be harmful, but most are not. Animal meats may become contaminated with this bacterium during the slaughter process.

The presence of E.coli, although an indicator organism for fecal matter, does not mean the product is, in fact, contaminated by feces. E.coli that is present in feathers, or environmental contaminants, like dust, can also contaminate a poultry carcass. As part of poultry inspection procedures, FSIS enforces a “zero tolerance” standard for visible fecal material on poultry carcasses. It also requires slaughter establishments to perform microbiological testing for generic E.coli on carcasses to verify that slaughter processes are under control for the prevention and removal of fecal contamination.

Safe food handling and proper cooking will help keep you and your family safe from foodborne bacteria. Follow the four food safety steps

  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate: Separate raw meats and poultry from other foods.
  • Cook: Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F (73.9 °C).
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly.

Sources:

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