Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Looks Could Kill

My husband grew up on a chicken farm. His family raised 120,000 chickens every two months, in six big barns. That's a lot of chickens. Of course, there are lots of people who eat chickens, so the more the family raised, the better for everyone. At the end of every grow, trucks would come in the night, and the 10 or so professional chicken catchers per barn (yes, there are professional chicken catchers) would work through the night, picking up every one of the birds by hand to be sent off to the processing plant. A good catcher would carry 7 birds at a time. Ked, in his day, was a good catcher.

The family, though, never had anything to do with what happened to the birds after they left the farm. They raised them, sent them off, and then cleaned up the barns for the next batch of chicks. End of story. Of course, it's not really the end of the story. The birds would go on to processing plants, where they were killed, plucked, and all the rest of the things that most of us carnivores don't tend to dwell on for the sake of enjoying our dinner. (In our early-married and extremely poor days we had to butcher a few chickens for ourselves, but that's another story altogether.) Most of us are quite satisfied to leave the "processing" to others and pay for the privilege at the grocery store. We get pre-cleaned dinner meat. The company who processed them for us gets money. Free enterprise, in this case, makes us all happy (with the noted exception of PETA.)

Where chickens are involved, there are, of course, always concerns about the safety of the meat. Disease germs, for some inexplicable reason, are particularly fond of chickens. Here are some of the nice names from an article I read: yersinia, salmonella, listeria, campylobacter--don't they all sound wholesome and nutritious? Actually, these little trespassers could kill you. We've all read the warnings that chicken absolutely, positively has to be fully cooked. No exceptions. No chicken tartar. Never. Not even a little tiny bit of pink in the flesh. Just say no to raw chicken. We are also warned to wash every surface we even thought about bringing near said chicken. Every surface. No exceptions. Just to be on the safe side, you should wash the wrapper in which the raw chicken entered your home in the dishwasher, before you throw it in the trash, so the garbage won't be contaminated. Then, wash the dishwasher...and maybe the car you drove when you went shopping. You just can't be too careful.

The interesting thing about all the warnings is that they come despite the tax dollars we all pay to have government employees inspect these chickens for safety. Why is that? Well, the man whose article gave me the lovely compilation of bacterial interlopers I listed earlier, John Stossel, formerly of "20/20", writing at Townhall. com, says it's because the government generally evaluates the chickens by how they look, rather than whether they pass a microbial exam. Huh? We've known about germs for a long time guys, so what's with the visual inspection? According to Stossel, this system was put in place before the government knew any better, but why is it still the way things work, now that we have a bit of science to back up the notion that a pretty bird can be just as dangerous as an ugly one? Stossel says it's a combination of chicken industry interests, government inertia, and unions. Wow, all three of these players working in tandem? How does that work? Read Stossel's article and see for yourself.