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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Lactic Acid Reduces Microbes in Poultry

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Lactic Acid Reduces Microbes in Poultry

Lactic acid, commonly used in foods as a flavoring or preservative, reduces Salmonella in two major organs in broiler chickens, according to ARS studies in College Station, Texas.

One organ, called the crop, is part of the chicken's esophagus, which leads from the mouth to the stomach. The other organ, the ceca, is a pouch connected to the large intestine.

"Both the crop and ceca are especially prone to bacterial contamination," says microbiologist J. Allen Byrd, of the ARS Food and Feed Safety Research Unit.

Eight to 10 hours before slaughter, broiler chickens are usually taken off feed to reduce intestinal contents. During this time, they look for food and peck at whatever is on the ground. What the birds eat enters the crop and is slowly released into the stomach. If Salmonella is present, the highest concentration is found in the ceca. But the amount of bacteria in the crop is also significant because it ruptures 86 times more often than the ceca during processing.

By adding 2 tablespoons of lactic acid to 1.2 gallons of the chickens' drinking water, scientists reduced Salmonella by 41.5 percent in the crop and by 11.2 percent in the ceca, compared to birds drinking plain water.

Why would this simple tactic thwart one of the worst foodborne pathogens in poultry? Lactic acid acidifies crop contents, making them less conducive to bacterial growth. This method is an inexpensive way to help keep foodborne pathogens at bay—the cost is about 0.2 cents per bird using food-grade lactic acid. Researchers are studying other tactics to identify potential hot spots in the processing chain that may lead to bacterial contamination.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes death. The bacteria, which can be killed by thoroughly cooking food, sicken an estimated 3.8 million Americans each year.—By Linda McGraw, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.

J. Allen Byrd is in the USDA-ARS Food and Feed Safety Research Unit, 2881 F&B Road, College Station, TX 77845; phone (979) 260-9331, fax (979) 260-9332.

"Lactic Acid Reduces Microbes in Poultry" was published in the November 2000 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Last Modified: 3/18/2014
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