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48% of Chicken in Small Sample Has E. Coli

A recent test of packaged raw chicken products bought at grocery stores across the country found that roughly half of them were contaminated with the bacteria E. coli.

E. coli, which the study said was an indicator of fecal contamination, was found in 48 percent of 120 chicken products bought in 10 major cities by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit group that advocates a vegetarian diet among other things. The study results were released Wednesday.

'Most consumers do not realize that feces are in the chicken products they purchase,' said Dr. Neal D. Barnard, president of the group. 'Food labels discuss contamination as if it is simply the presence of bacteria, but people need to know that it means much more than that.'

Food safety specialists said the findings were a tempest in a chicken coop, particularly because the test was so small and the E. coli found was not a kind that threatened public health.

'What's surprising to me is that they didn't find more,' said Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. 'Poop gets into your food, and not just into meat -- produce is grown in soil fertilized with manure, and there's E. coli in that, too.'

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