Post by Nancy Shute, The Salt at NPR Food (3/24/13)
Backyard chickens have become a coveted suburban accessory, one that packages cuteness, convenience and local food production in one fluffy feathered package.
But animal husbandry can be a nasty business, a fact that's often glossed over by poultry partisans like Martha Stewart and New Yorker writer Susan Orlean.
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report doesn't do gloss. In its latest edition, this chronicle of all things contagious reports on a 2012 salmonella outbreak among 195 people in 27 states.
Most had had contact with live chickens, and many had purchased the birds from an Ohio mail-order hatchery for backyard flocks.
"This outbreak investigation identified the largest number of human illnesses ever linked to contact with live poultry during a single outbreak," the MMWR report concludes, "and it underscores the ongoing risk for human salmonellosis linked to backyard flocks."
The hatchery that was the source of the birds participated in a program to eliminate the spread of salmonella strains that cause illness in birds, but doesn't certify the poultry as free of strains that could infect people.