Industrial Chicken Farming and The Tyson Chicken Recall

Tyson Issues A Massive Chicken Recall!

There has recently been a hyper-focus on the safety of how chicken is manufactured and sold, especially since Tyson Foods have had a huge recall. In this article, we’re going to explain what went wrong with Tyson’s chicken, and how we avoid that with the meat that we sell.

Who Are Tyson Foods?

Its possible that you might not be familiar with who Tyson Foods is. Well, at the heart of it, they’re one of the world’s largest and most prominent businesses, in the sphere of processing and marketing chicken, beef, and pork. They are a very well-known brand in US supermarkets, and it’s common to see a whole host of their chicken on the shelves, in everything from frozen nuggets to cold, pre-cooked, ready-to-eat chicken products. [1]

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What Happened?

On the third of July, Tyson Food issued a huge recall for a large swath of their chicken products. This recall was supplemented on the eighth of July, and in total, nearly nine million pounds of food products have been recalled. The majority of the products are brands that have the Tyson label on them, though there are a few brands that use chicken produced by Tyson, licensing the meat themselves.

There is always a risk when producing chicken on this scale that you can see a whole host of health problems coming from products containing chicken that has been pre-cooked improperly. The idea of pre-cooking the chicken is that it only needs reheating and thus doesn’t need to get to a high temperature to be safe to eat. Instead, it may only need defrosting, and heating through.

Two cases of food poisoning were reported to the USDA (the US Department of Agriculture) in early June, and shortly thereafter, an investigation was carried out to find out where the blame lay. During the investigation, another case was reported to the USDA, and all three of the sufferers were hospitalized. Sadly, one individual actually passed away from the illness that they were suffering.

The specific type of food poisoning that the patients were infected with is listeria, which is a particularly nasty bug to catch. The CDC posted a warning notice online warning people of this, and the recall notice for the chicken was issued by the FSIS (the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service).

As part of a routine collection of chicken sample from the large industrial plants where the chicken is processed into meals, the FSIS collected two samples which were contaminated with bacteria genetically similar to listeria strains found in the ill people. One of these samples was collected at Tyson Foods, leading to Tyson recalling so much chicken.

Tyson has been quick to point out that while there’s no explicit proof that any of their chicken was contaminated or undercooked, they’re recalling it under an overabundance of caution. It goes without saying that this is the right decision for them and anyone who’s unsure of some chicken in their home. Listeria can be fatal, so always make sure to cook or reheat your chicken until it is steaming hot. [2]

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Why Has This Happened?

There are two reasons why chicken can become contaminated and infected with listeria bacteria.

Firstly, it can happen while the animal is alive. In theory, a chicken can eat something that it isn’t supposed to, and thereby develop listeria in its intestines without becoming sick. Because the animal doesn’t get sick, farmers might not know, and therefore the chicken might go to market anyway.

The way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to properly cook chicken before eating. (Don’t worry we’re covering that next) In ready-to-eat chicken products such as the ones that were recalled, this should be common practice within the factory. However, it would seem that something went wrong in the production process.

Secondly, meat can become tainted with listeria if it has been cooked in the factory before coming into contact with other meat which is already tainted. This infection will spread, leading to the chicken become unsafe to eat. To render the chicken safe, it must be cooked to 165° from raw or reheated to 165° if it’s a ready-to-eat product. [3]

How to Keep Your Family Safe

The single most important tool to have in your kitchen is a very accurate digital thermometer. Calibrate the thermometer in ice water. Thoroughly cook chicken products to 165°. No exceptions. I have been a professional chef for 40 years and have cooked tens of thousands of pounds of chicken and I always, without exception, use a thermometer. Also if cooking whole chicken test at multiple points on the chicken to make sure you have an accurate reading. All parts of the chicken must be above 165°. Also on a separate note when working with raw chicken use bleach and water to sanitize all surfaces and tools used to prep. During the peak of Covid the expression I used with my kids daily is “treat everything like raw chicken”. If you touch it ,wash your hands. If you touch it, don’t touch anything else. Sanitize all surfaces before and after use. This is how I’ve always treated chicken throughout my career. Cross-contamination is as simple as touching a chicken and then mixing cold vegetables or a salad. In fact most cases of foodborne illness from chicken come from cross-contamination. When you have potential cross-contamination on an industrial scale you can end up with an industrial size recall.

Please my friends read this section twice and if you don’t own a digital thermometer buy one today. Bonus, You will also use it for getting the perfect temperature on every steak you cook and even reheating leftovers.

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Why we chose a different path

Sadly as a professional chef for almost 40 years this is not the first time I’ve seen this happen. Chicken recalls and problems with our industrial food system rears is head every couple of years. With this understanding it was  part of the decision making process when we decided to raise and process the animals ourselves.

It would be super easy for me to now start spouting about the dangers of our industrial food system and positioning Tyson foods as some big evil company . But I would just be pandering to what I feel would be an untruth. I just don’t feel that way. Tyson as a company doesn’t get to the size it does without having an insane level of safety precautions and protocols in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen more often. The people that work at Tyson are people just like you and me trying to feed a planet of hungry people in a vastly complex system.

I also want to be crystal clear on my opinion of the  absolute necessity for the industrial vertically integrated food system that we have, not only in our country but around the world. We are pushing towards 8 Billion of us on the planet and every one of us has a right to a safe reliable food source. To eliminate our industrial food system would condemn billions to death by starvation. To me this is unthinkable.

A sometimes imperfect system operating at a global scale to feed billions is better than the alternative.

Because we are operating on a small scale here at the Hollow it allows us to raise and process chickens the way it was done hundreds of years ago. Though this is not a practical system at scale or for vast numbers of people it does produce a small quantity of exceptional chicken. This is why we choose to raise our chickens on pasture moving them daily, process on-farm and sell directly to consumers. Not as a replacement to the industrial system in place but as a method for producing something at a much higher level of quality.



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