Chicken causes most foodborne illnesses in US; potentially more in China

According to a recent report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chicken caused the most foodborne illness in the United States between 2009-2015. Poultry consumption could be even more hazardous in China, as last month the country reported an outbreak of highly contagious H5N1 bird flu.

WebMD Chicken

Chicken causes the most outbreak-associated illnesses of any food.

Foodborne illnesses

In its report “Surveillance for Foodborne Disease Outbreaks — United States, 2009–2015,” the CDC collected data on foodborne disease outbreaks (defined as the occurrence of two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food), and found that 3,114 people got sick from eating contaminated chicken during the reporting period. Although the CDC found that fish caused more disease outbreaks, it was chicken that made the most people sick.

One leading cause of illness from consuming chicken is food poisoning due to salmonella, a type of bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, and cramps about 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Salmonella is also often found in eggs, cheese, juice, and fruit. Salmonella can be killed through thorough cooking and pasteurization.

If you must eat chicken, you should take the following precautions to decrease your odds of getting salmonella:

  • avoid eating undercooked chicken;
  • wash your hands with soap and water before touching food;
  • wash your hands immediately after handling raw chicken; and
  • avoid using the same utensils on raw and cooked chicken.

H5N1 Bird Flu

Even if you take every precaution against salmonella, eating chicken in China can be very risky. Last month China reported an outbreak of highly pathogenic H5N1 bird flu at a farm in Qinghai province. The country had previously reported outbreaks of H5N6 and H7N9 bird flu viruses in March.

Western scientists are concerned that one of these recent bird flu outbreaks in China could mark the beginning of the next global flu pandemic if the virus(es) mutate. The threat is compounded by the fact that China has refused to share recent bird flu virus samples with United States and United Kingdom officials.

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