Feather Follicles Dont Harbor Bacteria
By Sharon Durham
June 25, 2002
For years, researchers have looked for
ways to cleanse chicken feather follicles of bacteria and other potentially
harmful microbes during or after processing. This research was based on the
belief that feather follicles--empty and open after feathers are
plucked--harbor skin surface contaminants. Now,
Agricultural Research Service
researchers have shown that feather follicles dont seem to harbor
bacteria after all.
ARS scientists R. Jeffrey Buhr, Mark E. Berrang and John A. Cason of the
Poultry Processing and Meat
Quality Unit in Athens, Ga., bred featherless chickens, which do not have
feather follicles, to compare against their feathered siblings. The researchers
found that the amount of E. coli and Campylobacter found on the
skin surface of the birds was basically the same, with or without feathers.
The first step in this research was breeding featherless, or scaleless,
chickens that would be of comparable size to feathered chickens of the same
age. By the use of artificial insemination, the offspring of featherless
roosters and commercial broiler breeder hens were bred to produce both
feathered and featherless chicks.
The birds were given Campylobacter orally a week before processing,
during which the birds were handled in alternating batches of four feathered
and four featherless chickens. The breast skin, under sterile conditions, was
then carefully removed from the carcass and tested for Campylobacter,
E. coli and other bacteria.
From all carcasses, the recovery of E. coli did not differ between
feathered and scaleless fowl, showing that the presence or absence of feathers
and empty follicles did not impact the level of bacteria recovered from the
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.