Where artisanal cheese producers have more public support, the laws allow raw milk cheese. Raw milk cheese is a product of small-time artisans. As of this writing, no large, politically connected producers are making these cheeses in the U.S., so no movement has emerged to make laws on raw milk cheese more consistent and reasonable.
Bureaucracy affects food safety rules in more subtle ways as well. Changing a regulation is always harder than keeping it intact, particularly if the change means sanctioning a new and strange food or liberalizing an old standard. No one will praise public health officials and organizations for moist pork chops, but plenty will heap blame should someone fall ill after regulators relax a safety standard.
Misconceptions About Chicken
The misconceptions surrounding chicken are in some ways similar to those that plague pork but are arguably even more confusing because of conflicting standards and widespread blurring between fact and fiction. First, the facts: chickens can indeed host asymptomatic Salmonella infections, and it is not uncommon for chicken feces to contain high levels of the pathogenic bacteria. Moreover, chickens are typically sold whole, which means that they may carry remnants of any fecal contamination of the skin or interior abdominal cavity that occurred during slaughter and processing. That’s why chicken and chicken-derived products are considered such common sources of foodborne Salmonella .
As with Trichinella and pork, however, the link between contaminant and food has been exaggerated. Many people believe, for example, that chicken is the predominant source of Salmonella . That’s not necessarily the case. In a 2009 analysis by the CDC, Salmonella was instead most closely associated with fruits and nuts, due in part to an outbreak linked to peanut butter in 2006. Indeed, the tally of outbreak-linked foodborne illnesses attributable to produce was nearly double the tally of such illnesses associated with poultry, and the foodborne pathogen most commonly linked with poultry was not Salmonella but the bacterium Clostridium perfringens.
For ready-to-eat food products, including rotisserie and fast-food chicken, the FSIS calls for a 7D reduction in Salmonella levels. In 2001, the FSIS developed a corresponding set of time-and-temperature tables for chicken and turkey products according to their fat content. The tables, based on the research of microbiologist Vijay K. Juneja, Ph.D. and colleagues at the USDA Agricultural Research Service, include fat contents as high as 12 percent and recommended temperatures as low as 58 degreesC / 136 degrees F . As we’ve previously discussed, that set of standards has been challenged as overly conservative by an advisory panel, which instead suggested a 4.5D reduction, allowing a 36 percent decrease in cooking times from the FSIS 7D standard.
In 2007 Juneja’s team published the results of a study directly examining Salmonella growth in ground chicken breast and thigh meat. The data show that cooking chicken meat at temperatures as low as 55 degrees C / 131 degrees F for much shorter times produces a 6.5D reduction. The researchers’ curve is quite similar to the FDA’s 6.5D reduction curve for whole-meat roasts, except for a sizeable divergence in time at the 60 degrees C / 140 degrees F temperature point.
So who’s right? Technically, destruction of Salmonella can take place at temperatures as low as 48 degrees C / 120 degreesF given enough time. There is no scientific reason to prefer any one point on the reduction curve, but the experts who formulated the FSIS ready-to-eat standards arbitrarily decided to go no lower than 58 degrees C / 136 degrees F . Likewise, officials preparing the FDA Food Code and other reports chose 74 degrees C / 165 degrees F as an arbitrary cut-off. The choice seems to have been based not on science but on politics, tradition, and subjective judgment.