A new study of raw chicken from producers around the country found 97 percent was contaminated with bacteria that could be harmful to human health.

chicken breast

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Consumer Reports evaluated more than 300 chicken breasts purchased from U.S. stores from 26 states in July 2013 and found bacterial contaminants include salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli and others.

This is not to say that consumers should expect uncooked chicken to be completely free of bacteria, which is why it’s advised poultry — and any other food that might have come in contact with its juices — be cooked to at least 165 degrees.

But, as Consumer Reports pointed out, “some bacteria are more worrisome than others—and our latest tests produced troubling findings.”

Among these more troublesome findings are that samples contained “fecal contaminants” and a bacterium that is resistant to at least three antibiotics.

Here’s more from Consumer Reports about its findings:

  • Every one of the four major brands we tested (Perdue, Pilgrim’s, Sanderson Farms, and Tyson) contained worrisome amounts of bacteria, even the chicken breasts labeled “no antibiotics” or “organic.” (See a list of all of the brands we tested (PDF), including those with a “No Antibiotics” or “Organic” label.)
  • Almost none of the brands was free of bacteria. And we found no significant difference in the average number of types of bacteria between conventional samples and those labeled “no antibiotics” or “organic.”
  • More than half of the chicken breasts were tainted with fecal contaminants (enterococcus and E. coli), which can cause blood and urinary-tract infections, among other problems.
  • Enterococcus was the most common bacterium we found, occurring in 79.8 percent of our samples. Next was E. coli, in 65.2 percent of them; campylobacter, 43 percent; klebsiella pneumoniae, 13.6 percent; salmonella, 10.8 percent, and staphylococcus aureus, 9.2 percent.
  • About half of our samples (49.7 percent) tested positive for at least one multidrug-­resistant bacterium, and 11.5 percent ­carried two or more types of multidrug-­resistant bacteria.
  • Of the 65.2 percent of samples testing positive for E. coli, 17.5 percent of the bugs were “ExPEC” bacteria, a nasty type of E. coli that’s more likely than other types to make you sick with a urinary-tract infection.

At the same time that Consumer Reports was conducting its study, it was revealed that three Foster Farms chicken production plant had a drug-resistant salmonella outbreak that sickened nearly 400 people, hospitalizing 40 percent of them.

Salmonella Chicken

A truck enters the Foster Farms processing plant on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in Livingston, Calif. The plant is one of three California poultry processing plants linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 278 people across the country. The Agriculture Department said that Foster Farms has until Thursday to tell the USDA how it will fix the problem. Sampling by USDA in September showed that raw chicken processed by those facilities included strains of salmonella that were linked to the outbreak. (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

“I’ve never felt so sick in my life,” Rick Shiller, a 51-year-old from San Jose, Calif. who was sickened in this outbreak, said, according to Consumer Reports.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration announced it is taking steps to phase out the use of some antibiotics in animals processed for meat.

The FDA has been debating how to address the issue of antibiotics in meat for several years as consumers have become more aware of the issue and are clamoring for antibiotic-free meat. McDonald’s, among other companies, has moved to limit the drugs in their meat, pushing many animal producers to go along.

The FDA move is designed to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans. Repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to the drug so that it is no longer effective in treating a particular illness.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health problem. In September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released sobering estimates that more than 23,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant infections.

Read more of Consumer Reports extensive study and chicken purchasing and preparation tips.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(H/T: The Oregonian)