I watched Food, Inc. (LINK) perhaps two years ago and recalled a clip from Joel Salatin (wiki), a "natural only" farmer who started Polyface Farms. There's a clip from the movie in which Joel is killing and de-feathering chickens and says that when the USDA tried to shut him down for butchering/preparing meat in the open air, he had his meat tested at a local microbiology lab. The lab found that Joel's chickens had 133 Colony Forming Units (CFU, a measure of microbe concentration levels) and local grocery store meat had 3600 CFU, supposedly after being through many chlorine baths.

The clip is HERE and opens to the moment right before he makes these claims.


  • Is there any evidence to support the claim that grass-fed or "naturally raised" chickens (or any meat for that matter) will contain less bacteria than "traditionally raised" (feedlots/slaughterhouses) animal products? Put another way, is there evidence to support that naturally raised chickens (or other animals) would have 1/30 of the amount of bacteria compared to meat one would buy at a grocery store?
  • Secondly (and more for curiosity's sake), are chickens actually processed through many chlorine baths?

I'm fine with answerers proposing what the alternative to "naturally raised" actually is. Perhaps comparing Joel's method to whatever Tyson does is the route to take? I'd like to evaluate his claim compared to whatever was likely at the grocery store, so evaluating against a "big name" method of raising chickens may be the best approach?

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    I think a more important question is: is more bacteria really something to worry about? I would guess the answer is no; humans did not evolve in a sterile room... Jun 25, 2011 at 1:14
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    Bacteria multiply, given time. One possibility is that the meat samples taken from the store have been sitting around for longer (are older) than the meat samples taken from his farm (refrigeration only slows, not stops, the multiplication of bacteria).
    – ChrisW
    Jun 25, 2011 at 2:32
  • Yes -- that is a great point. It would seem that for things like salmonella and e. coli, the answer is actually "Yes," at least in some cases -- clearly we've had some food poisoning related deaths and there are quite clear suggestions for proper cooking from government agencies... so I don't think there's just nothing at all to bacteria.
    – Hendy
    Jun 25, 2011 at 2:34
  • BlueRaja - Yes: the severity of an infection depends on the type of bacteria (e.g. salmonella), and I think on the quantity.
    – ChrisW
    Jun 25, 2011 at 2:36

1 Answer 1


First of all, bacteria-free doesn't really exist. For example it is estimated that a human contains about ten times as many bacterial cells as there are human cells. I'd be extremely surprised if that wasn't also true for other animals.

So why worry about cleanliness then? Chicken meat can carry disease-causing bacteria, including salmonella, which infects chicken as well as humans. In addition, there are plenty of problematic bacteria in feces (E.coli comes to mind), and if the chicken aren't reared in very good hygienic condition, it is possible that contamination happens during the slaughter.

Note that if you handle chicken meat properly - don't undercook the meat, don't lick your fingers after touching the meat, don't re-use the knife to spread peanut butter without washing it first etc -, the chances of infecting yourself with salmonella or other bacteria is very low.

A farmer rearing a small number of chickens and taking good care of them will have an easier time spotting an infected chicken, and manual slaughtering/defeathering chickens is less likely to lead to contamination of meat with feces (depending, of course, on where you do it. In the open air next to a pile of cow dung is not ideal). Feed has not much do do with this, though, as long as the chicken don't eat their own feces.

As to the chlorine bath: Yes, that is apparently true. In fact, it appears the the EU prohibited import of chicken from the US due to the chlorine treatments.

  • So the variables are 1) general population cleanliness, 2) time elapsed before removing an infected chicken from the population and 3) killing/cleaning cleanliness (is salmonella a fecal bacteria? If not, would it spread during cleaning like you alluded to?) -- is this an accurate summary?
    – Hendy
    Dec 11, 2011 at 16:27
  • @Hendy: Yes, that summarizes the answer pretty well, and yes, salmonella are excreted via feces from infected animals (and people).
    – Jonas
    Dec 13, 2011 at 18:43
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    Not all strains of E-Coli are bad. In fact many if not most are very normal, peaceful, residents in your digestive tract.
    – jwenting
    Jun 19, 2018 at 8:28

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