Backyard Flocks & Salmonella: Our Perspective on the CDC's Warning

The CDC recently issued guidance to backyard flock owners encouraging them to wash their hands after handling chickens and advising against cuddling or kissing poultry. The reminder comes in response to related data showing that 181 people have sickened with Salmonella poisoning this year as a result of exposure to backyard flocks. The CDC's data and guidance has been been widely reported by the press including NBC, Reuters, NPR and others.

While we support the CDC's guidance, we believe the widespread media attention leads to a distorted picture of the dangers of keeping poultry.  This article provides additional data that puts recent media reports  in perspective.

Salmonella bacteria shown in red (Photo courtesy NIH)

Salmonella Outbreaks Related To Poultry

According to the CDC, there were major outbreaks of poultry related salmonella in each of the last few years.  What's clear is that the number of cases in any given year is well below 1,000 individuals.

  • 2015 - 181 illnesses (year-to-date)
  • 2014 - 363 illnesses
  • 2013 - 514 illnesses
  • 2012 -334 illnesses
Salmonella & Other Illnesses Related To Food

Now let's compare this data to the CDC's data on total cases of salmonella resulting from exposure to contaminated food. The first table shows number of illnesses related to a specific type of pathogen (bacteria, virus etc). The second table shows total cases of food poisoning related to any type of pathogen.

Salmonella sickens over 1 million Americans each year

1 in 6 Americans (48 million) get food poisoning each year

OK, so here is the sad truth....  Over 1 million Americans are sickened by Salmonella each year as a result of consuming improperly prepared food. Frequent sources of infection include oysters, ground beef, chicken, and vegetables. In most cases, the symptoms are upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, it the illness can cause dehydration and death.

Even more common is food poisoning related to Norovirus. This is the type of virus that has effected many cruise trip travelers.  Norovirus sickens about 5 million people each year.  

And the CDC estimates that almost 49 million Americans will be sickened each year by one form or another of food borne pathogen. That's one in six people in the U.S.

Even good food can carry salmonella and other pathogens. Take care to wash and properly cook all food.

Conclusions From The Data

Backyard chicken owners are much more likely to pick up Salmonella and a host of other gastrointestinal diseases from consuming food from their refrigerator or from a restaurant than they are from their backyard flock. 

Chicken owners should follow the CDC's advice and wash their hands after touching birds. It is also good advice not to cuddle or kiss your chickens, but there's no reason to be particularly concerned about becoming sick from your backyard flock.

If you have neighbors that hear these media reports and become concerned, please pass along this information to them.


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