WASHINGTON – A pro-vegan group that conducted a survey for the presence of E. coli in chicken incorrectly interpreted the results, according to industry groups.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit group that advocates a vegetarian diet, among other things, tested packaged raw chicken products purchased at 15 grocery stores in 10 US cities and found that 48 percent of them tested positive for the presence of E. coli, according to the PCRM web site.

“One in every two supermarket chickens is contaminated with feces,” said Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM president. “Meat packers can’t avoid contaminating poultry products during production, and consumers are cooking and eating chicken feces in about half the cases.”

But sources from Food Marketing Institute and the National Chicken Council questioned the methodology used in the survey.

Ashley Peterson , vice president of science and technology at the NCC said the findings were not peer-reviewed and “… an attempt to scare consumers in hopes of advancing their goal of a vegan society and to derail a USDA proposed rule to modernize the poultry inspection system.”

“The methods used to collect and interpret the data in the PCRM survey fail to meet standards of proper scientific research design,” said Dr. Hillary Thesmar, vice president of Food Safety Programs at FMI. “In addition, there are many different strains of E. coli, these are common in the environment and many do not cause illness.

“The presence of generic E. coli is not a guaranteed indicator for fecal contamination, and to draw that conclusion is misleading,” Thesmar added. “To base an entire report around that faulty conclusion is irresponsible. “

Thesmar went on to say that food retailers use multiple food safety programs, which can include employee training in sanitation and safe food handling practices, and best practices for preparing, serving and storing food. She said the US Department of Agriculture “has a zero tolerance policy for fecal contamination on poultry carcasses during processing,” and USDA inspectors and plant employees maintain many points of inspection to safeguard against fecal contamination.

Peterson added that PCRM’s findings do not differentiate between harmless strains and the ones that can cause foodborne illness, like O157:H7. She added that all E. coli strains are killed through proper cooking.
“It also is impossible to pinpoint the source of the E.coli as it is ubiquitous in nature, on animals and in humans,” Peterson said. “While we question the results of these findings and the motives of this group, their conclusion is disingenuous at best when looking at 57 questionable samples out of approximately 42 million pounds of ready-to-cook chicken products in grocery stores on any given day.”