SafeFood: From Hen to Home

Being from Texas, the term chicken ranch has a different definition than currently used today to describe the urban farming trend of raising chickens in backyards. Recently, a national bok-lash (sorry!) is occurring with increasing numbers of people becoming infected from multiple strains of the salmonella bacteria. Since mid-February of this year, over 200 people in 44 states have become ill. Fortunately, there have been no deaths reported, although 26% of infected persons (as of this writing) were children under the age of 5. Hopefully these children will not suffer long term health consequences as a result of this illness. CDC’s investigation has found about three fourths of those who became sick were in contact with baby chickens or ducklings in the previous week.  Given the number of communities that do allow backyard flocks, perhaps this should not be a surprise. I remember a contentious issue in a nearby town a few years back over a property owner wishing to keep their miniature horse in the backyard. The city fathers and mothers (and some of the neighbors) did not like this idea, thus, zoning restrictions were imposed. Yet, raising chickens is quite trendy. Yes, fresh eggs (if you can find them all) taste wonderful. But do the town farmers realize the need to follow practices with regards to protection of their health and safety of the product? Have communities provided any guidance with regards to safety controls? What is a reasonable number to have in the flock? What about the early morning wake-up calls? What animal welfare practices are followed? You have all heard of the term “pecking order”, right? A recent study from the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, (reported in Feedstuffs) found that different production practices (i.e. caged and free range, to name two) each have benefits and drawbacks with regards to environmental impact, animal welfare, human health effects, quality of food, and safety of product.  For those currently raising chickens or those considering joining the flock to do so, this latest outbreak illustrates the need to wash hands, implement action steps to establish control zones, and ride herd in providing oversight that the chickens and the eggs are handled safely.



Catherine Hemphill Strohbehn has been a faculty member at Iowa State University in the Hospitality Management Program for 30 years. She is a State Specialist with Human Sciences Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University. As part of her work, she conducts research, develops educational materials and provides programs to help retail foodservices use their resources effectively and ensure safe food is served. Cathy is a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Certified Professional in Food Safety from the National Environmental Health Association.

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