I’m trying to be patient and wait a few years until, if things go as planned, my wife and I move to the Polka Farm full-time, before raising a flock of chickens. But it’s getting really hard to wait.
I like eggs, and I like chicken meat. A lot. At a time when beef and pork prices have increased by about 6% and 13%, respectively, over the past year, I have, like many other American peasants, been forced to rely increasingly on the Factory Chicken for my grilling and roasting pleasure. Of course, new demand has caused chicken prices to rise also, but they’re still very cheap comparitively.
Unfortunately, you get what you pay for.
Some of America’s chicken factories have become most adept at producing little 4 and 5-pound vomit bombs, ready to go off on anyone who forgets to sufficiently overcook the meat.
For example, I give you Livingston, Calif.-based Foster Farms. Beginning in March of last year, whole chickens slaughtered and “processed” at Foster Farms California factories caused salmonella poisoning in 634 people in 29 states who reported it (and for every food poisoning case reported to the government, more than 25 cases go unreported). Of those cases, 241 people were sick enough that they had to be hospitalized.
Here’s the hilarious part: On July 31, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced that the Foster Farms salmonella outbreak “appears to be over.” But about a month earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found Salmonella Heidelberg (an especially nasty antibiotic-resistant strain) in Foster Farms’ boneless and skinless chicken breasts. So yeah, one Foster Farms vomit outbreak has officially ended, but another one has just begun.
In case you haven’t figured it out, the moral of this portion of Our Story is, don’t buy anything from Foster Farms unless you really, really don’t like the people you’ve invited home for dinner.
But here’s the kicker: Chicken factories such as those operated by Foster Farms have been running under the watchful eye of USDA food inspectors trained to discover and remove diseased and otherwise digestively unsafe birds from the factory killing line before they make it to the grocery stores.
Considering outbreaks such as the ones at Foster Farms, you might not think the government inspectors are doing a very good job. But consider this: Chicken factores are allowed to run their killing lines at the speed of 140 per minute. This gives government inspectors .43 seconds to inspect each bird. I’m not sure if I could even tell if a chicken has two legs in .43 seconds.
Thus you come to see why so much of our factory-supplied meat is tainted with disease-causing microbes.
And if you thought it couldn’t be worse for the consumer, you would be wrong. Because just last Thursday the USDA gave its final approval to new poultry inspection regulations. You know those trained government food inspectors expected to detect diseased chickens whirring past them at the rate of 140 per minute? Well, now if the factory owners so choose, they are allowed to replace the government food inspectors with their own employees. And there is no training requirement for those employees.
Does anyone think those employee-inspectors will have a whole bunch of incentive to find lots of diseased birds and remove them from the killing line?
It’s for real: Buy a grocery-store chicken and you get a free packet of vomit gravy with each bird.
Buy somebody else’s pasture-raised chicken? Healthy whole chicken can buy you peace of mind and pretty great taste, but it will cost you about $4.50 per pound, or around $24 per bird.
All of which is why it’s so hard for me to put off raising my own.