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Tennessee Study Finds Salmonella in Chicken

Nov 6, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The Tennessee state health department has been randomly buying uncooked packages of chicken in grocery stores across the state and then testing them for the salmonella bacteria as part of an effort to determine how much harmful bacteria the poultry is carrying.  Salmonella and campylobacter, the two bacteria that live on uncooked chicken, can kill the elderly, the very young, and those with other health problems.

As part of the experiment, the Food Safety Task Force has been sending inspectors to Tennessee stores to randomly buy 10 packages of chicken monthly and then test them for salmonella and campylobacter.  It seems that sometimes half the chicken is tainted and, on average, 10 percent of the chicken is generally contaminated.  The bacteria are easily killed if chickens are cooked well; however, it is legal to sell the raw chickens containing salmonella and campylobacter.

Earlier this year, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would publish the names of poultry and meat plants having trouble controlling Salmonella and followed that announcement by publishing the names of broiler chicken plants in which over 10 percent of the samples were contaminated.  Two plants actually failed to meet the USDA's standard for salmonella in chicken, which is no more than 20 percent of samples contaminated.  At 19 plants, between 10 and 20 percent of the samples were contaminated with salmonella, according to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).  The USDA said the move is the result of a salmonella-control initiative it launched two years ago after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported salmonella had become the most prevalent food borne pathogen, accounting for 38.6% of all cases.

Salmonella bacterium, is usually found in food contaminated with animal feces, and can occur when food is improperly stored or handled and when preparers do not wash their hands or sanitize implements involved in meat storage.  Salmonella can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.  Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and cramping within 12 to 72 hours of infection.  Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis characterized by severe joint pain, irritation of the eyes and painful urination.  A victim of Reiter’s Syndrome may have already been treated for the initial infection, and it can be weeks before the symptoms of Reiter’s Syndrome become apparent.  Reiter’s Syndrome, which can plague its victims for months or years, is said to occur when reactive arthritis is evident and at least one other non-joint area, such as the eyes, skin or muscles, is affected.

Campylobacteriosis is an infectious disease caused by the campylobacter bacteria.  Most sickened with campylobacteriosis suffer from diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within two to five days after exposure to the germ. The diarrhea may be bloody and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. The illness typically lasts one week; however, campylobacter can spread to the bloodstream and cause a serious, life-threatening infection.

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