There is a gap in knowledge of microbiological quality in raw chicken products produced by nonconventional methods and no studies have reported the microbiological quality of turkeys produced under different rearing environments. Thus, the aim of this study was to compare the microbiological quality of conventionally and organically reared whole chicken and turkey carcasses purchased from 3 retail outlets in Knoxville, Tenn., U.S.A. A total of 100 raw broiler chickens organically (n = 50) and 50 raw turkey carcasses consisting of 3 brands reared either conventionally (n = 25) or organically (n = 25) were evaluated. The FDA BAM protocol for rinsing poultry carcasses was used to enumerate of aerobic bacteria, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus spp., and for qualitative analysis of Salmonella. Organic chickens from one brand had the highest average counts of aerobic bacteria, Staphylococcus spp. and Campylobacter (4.8, 4.8, and 4.7 Log10 CFU/mL rinsate, respectively) while the other organic brand had the lowest average counts (3.4, 3.3, and 3.1, respectively) of all 4 brands evaluated. The organic turkeys had the highest average counts of these same bacteria (4, 3.9, and 3.8, respectively) compared to the 2 brands of conventional turkeys evaluated. Salmonella (5% prevalence) was isolated only from organic chickens and turkeys. From these data, it appears that the microbiological quality of the raw product was not dependent on rearing conditions and, thus, it cannot be assumed that organic raw poultry is safer than conventionally raised poultry in terms of microbiological quality.
Our data support other published studies demonstrating that organic and free-range pasture chickens are not superior in terms of microbiological quality. In addition, our study examined organic turkeys, which has not been previously studied, and also found raw organic turkey meat does not have improved microbiological quality compared to conventionally raised turkeys. Thus, the data collected in this study implies that microbiological quality of raw chicken and turkeys is not a function of production and rearing practices and that raw organic chicken and turkey products should not be considered safer in terms of microbiological quality.