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Food as Medicine—Air-Chilled Chicken
By Kristin Bjornsen
Like 007, some people prefer their chicken chilled, not stirred. Indeed, they seem to be flocking to a new type of specialty poultry: air-chilled chickens, which producers say pack more flavor—and fewer pathogens—than conventionally treated chickens.
“Air chilled” refers to the method used to cool chickens just after slaughter to prevent bacterial growth. The standard method, used 99 percent of the time in the US, involves soaking the birds in vats of icy, chlorinated water for 20 to 65 minutes. Air-chilled chickens, in contrast, are hung on shackles that pass through cold chambers for several hours. Due, in part, to the longer cooling time, air-chilled chickens cost about twice as much as the standard variety costs.
Producers of air-chilled poultry, such as Maverick Ranch Natural Meats, Bell & Evans, and D’Artagnan, say their birds taste richer and more “chickeny” than their immersed counterparts, which absorb up to 12 percent of their body weight in water while in the cooling vats. To test the flavor, the Wall Street Journal conducted a blind taste-test comparing four air-chilled birds with two water-chilled. The two voted best tasting were air-chilled, but ironically, the lowest-ranking chicken was air-chilled as well.
Promoters also boast that air-chilled poultry harbors fewer pathogens than immersed ones. At first glance, a 2002 study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln supports this. The study found significantly fewer cases of salmonella contamination in air-chilled chickens than in immersed ones—a 19 percent contamination rate versus 25 percent. (Although those numbers sound alarming, the USDA actually allows 20 percent of birds from a slaughterhouse to test positive.) The difference in contamination rates stems, theoretically, from the use of the same liquid for multiple birds. A caveat exists, however: Even though a greater number of water-chilled birds test positive, each bird carries fewer bacterial cells, probably because the water dilutes the number of colonies.
What does this mean for chicken eaters? Well, if 50 in 100 water-chilled birds have bacterial concentrations of five to 10 colonies as opposed to one in 100 air-chilled birds having 1,000 colonies, “you may have more of a chance of getting sick if you get that one ‘lucky’ bird,” says Marcos Sánchez, PhD, the study’s lead researcher. In other words, “The health risks are about the same between immersed and air-chilled.”
But there’s one more possible problem with immersion. The chlorinated water may select for more resistant bacteria, allowing “super bugs” to pass through to the supermarket. Controlling for pathogens ends in the kitchen—always wash your hands after handling raw chicken and cook it thoroughly.
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UST Executive Conference on the Future of Health Care
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Discover how you can play an active role in shaping the future by what you do within your organization and network with other health care leaders who are dealing with similar issues. The pace of change in health care has increased exponentially since our inaugural health care conference. And by the time the second annual conference convenes, Congress will have passed its bill for health care reform. We’ll have officially begun a new journey.Fortunately, visionary leaders have been helping to shape this next phase of health care. Investments in innovation and quality have led to some very effective – and often surprising – ways to cut costs, reduce errors, increase service and satisfaction, and improve access and outcomes. Bold initiatives such as these should be shared – especially during this transformative time, when we are all looking for fresh models of excellence. The University of St. Thomas and its partners invite you to participate in an inspiring day of learning, sharing and strategizing about how we can leverage innovation and quality to thrive in the new health care environment. Book Club:November 4, 2010Thursday, 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.Conference:November 5, 2010Friday, 8:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.Please visit the University of St. Thomas Executive Health Care Conference website for more information or copy and paste the following URL: http://ustfutureofhealthcare.com