Why do frozen, raw chicken products keep getting recalled for salmonella? Wouldn’t the solution be to cook the product properly? All raw chicken could contain salmonella.

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Why do frozen, raw chicken products keep getting recalled for salmonella? Wouldn’t the solution be to cook the product properly? All raw chicken could contain salmonella.

In: Biology

It’s because there is no way to guarantee that everyone will cook the chicken properly and, even if they do, there’s no way to guarantee that all of the salmonella is killed by cooking.

It’s much safer and cheaper to recall chicken than to sell contaminated chicken and then have to spend resources treating the infected people or have people die.

There are two normal issues governing a recall due to salmonella. The first is the actual loading or the amount of salmonella present, so there isn’t a recall if there is some salmonella, but if there are substantial amounts of salmonella. The second is if the salmonella is an anti-biotic resistant strain.

Gram-negative bacteria such as salmonella produce toxic substances as part of their outer membrane. These substances are relatively resistant to heat and chemical attack, surviving both cooking and digestion, even when their parent cell dies.

This is not a problem for small bacterial loads, as each bacterium only produces a tiny amount of toxin, but large loads, repeated exposure or ingestion by people who are unfortunately susceptible can create bigger risks. Cooking doesn’t eliminate the risks, in fact bacterial cell death temporarily raises the concentration of these endotoxins, as the cell membranes that contain them are shredded, facilitating their release.

Suppose your chicken is heavily contaminated with salmonella. First, in order to ensure that all of the salmonella has been killed, everything has to be cooked to at least 165 for several minutes. If you miss any little spot, you can still be infected since millions of salmonella can pack into one square centimeter of a surface.

But if the contamination is really bad, you’ll still feel sick even if you kill all of the bacteria. Salmonella are gram-negative bacteria, and that type of bacteria expresses special toxins in their membranes which humans have special receptors for. Even if there’s no living salmonella to infect you, these proteins and biomolecules will still give you a fever and probably make you vomit.