When it comes to chicken, public health officials typically advise against washing raw chicken or thawing meat improperly in order to protect against food-borne illnesses like Salmonella. But the latest warning from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) might come as a surprise: stop kissing chickens.
There have been 1,000 reported cases of Salmonella across 49 states this year, and during a recent investigation, the CDC found a link between outbreak strains and coming into contact with backyard poultry. More than 347 people reported coming into contact with chicks or ducklings purchased from agricultural stores, websites, or hatcheries. In fact, since 2000, the CDC has linked 76 Salmonella outbreaks to backyard poultry.
Chickens can carry Salmonella even when they appear healthy, according to the CDC. The bacteria can be found in their droppings or on their bodies, their cages, their feed, and more. If people handling poultry aren't washing their hands properly with soap and water after contact, it's possible for those germs to spread to other surfaces, risking infection in someone that hasn't even touched birds themselves.
Poultry owners kissing their chickens might sound odd, but this is no weirder than snuggling your dog.
"If they're used to humans holding them then you can walk in [to the coop] without worrying about are they going to jump or get scared," chicken owner Elia Mattke told NPR in 2015 amid a similar CDC warning."You want to be able to come into the pen to feed them and water them without them starting to fly all around and go crazy."
As a reminder, the CDC recommends washing your hands after touching backyard poultry (and definitely don't touch your own face and mouth before you do) to best protect against a Salmonella infection, as well as keeping animals outside the house and avoiding eating in the environment where chickens live and roam.
A coop full of chicks aside, Salmonella can also be found in beef, eggs, fruits, pork, sprouts, vegetables, and processed foods, like nut butters, according to the CDC. You can decrease your risk of getting sick by separating raw meat and eggs from other items in your refrigerator, and always wash cutting boards, utensils, and plates with warm, soapy water. For more food safety tips, visit the CDC.