In recent years, the poultry industry has come under increasing scrutiny from the health community as a result of its poor track record for food safety. Particularly in the United States, where poultry “farms” cram over nine billion chickens into horribly undersized factories every year. Hens unfortunate enough to have been hatched in these
slaughterhouses are unlikely to ever see the light of day in their lifetime and are raised in such unnatural surroundings with the aid of antibiotics, pesticides and vast quantities of enriched foods that act to encourage their growth and fatten them up for the slaughterhouse as soon as possible.
The questionable food safety of chicken and other poultry products in the US, therefore, is not entirely surprising. Documented cases of illness and disease relating to poultry consumption or mishandling abound, with afflictions ranging from minor ailments to fatal viruses. The list of potential bacterial- and viral-related diseases and infections includes salmonellosis/salmonella, avian flu, E. coli, campylobacteriosis, and staphylococcus. Added to this list of alarming afflictions is the possibility of infection with leukosis virus, Marek’s disease virus and reticuloendotheliosis virus. All of which you’ve likely never heard of and some of which you’d have a hard time pronouncing, but this troublesome trio can cause a wide variety of cancers and neurologic diseases.
And yet, despite the huge risks of handling and eating poultry and their by-products, chicken remains the most popular meat in the United States. This could soon change if the public is made aware of new evidence that proves a link between poultry and a severe neurological condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome.
The link between poultry and paralysis
Guillain-Barre syndrome is an acute life-threatening inflammatory condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system at an extremely rapid rate. It begins with weakness and tingling in your extremities at first, but quickly spreads throughout the body, with eventual complete paralysis. It’s essentially like multiple sclerosis on steroids, where instead of taking years to develop, a person can become paralyzed and hooked up to a ventilator in a hospital in a matter of days.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that polio is now mostly just a bad memory, chicken handling and consumption is currently the most common cause of acute paralysis in the United States.
How to avoid contracting Guillain-Barre
Guillain-Barre syndrome is thought to be caused by a fecal pathogens found to contaminate up to 70 percent of United States poultry. One such pathogen connected to Guillain-Barre syndrome is campylobacter, which is commonly found in the intestinal tract of birds. Poultry meat, as well as the processing environment, can become contaminated during the slaughter of these animals, especially when removing feathers and intestines.
Luckily, there are a number of steps you can take to drastically reduce your chances of contracting this nasty condition. These steps require you to be extremely vigilant during the process of handling and cooking chicken and other poultry products.
Firstly, when storing poultry meat in the fridge, make sure it is isolated from food that you intend to eat without cooking. Similarly, try to avoid cutting or preparing your poultry on the same chopping board or surface as you would typically use for preparing raw foods, such as those to be eaten in salads.
Next, refrain from washing chicken or other poultry prior to cooking, as even the liquids from the meat and packaging can be contaminated with harmful pathogens. Ensure poultry juices don’t drip onto other foods while in the fridge, and thoroughly wash any chopping boards, utensils and hands that have come into contact with the meat or juices while preparing. Make sure you use hot, soapy water to rinse your hands and equipment, as cold water isn’t sufficient to ensure eradication of food-borne pathogens like campylobacter.
Lastly, ensure you thoroughly cook poultry meat to a minimum internal temperature of 170°F (75°C) using a food thermometer. If you don’t have one available, you can use a fork or skewer to make a hole to the bone or center of the meat, then observe the juices that flow out of the hole — if clear, the meat should be good to eat, but if red or pink, it needs more cooking. Always visually inspect the meat before eating. If there is any sign of redness, it should be cooked for longer. It is far better to eat overcooked chicken than undercooked.
In addition to the risk of ingesting serious pathogens and harmful chemicals from factory-farmed chickens, there are also humane considerations to keep in mind. To encourage a market that promotes humanely and therefore healthily raised chicken, strongly consider buying organic, free-range chicken next time you visit your supermarket or butcher.
Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally. Liivi‘s passion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.