Oil and water may not mix, but a University of Georgia study has found feeding chickens a blend of plant-based oils in their drinking water can help prevent salmonella contamination before the meat reaches the dinner table, or even the grocery store.
Salmonella is a bacterium that causes 1 million cases of foodborne illness in the United States each year, said Walid Alali, a food safety scientist with the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Ga.
"Each year some 20,000 people will go to the hospital and close to 400 will die due to salmonellosis," Alali said.
Linked to poultry, peanut butter and produce
Poultry is a common source of salmonellosis, as are eggs, raw sprouts and unpasteurized juices, but proper cooking and pasteurization kill salmonella. A major outbreak in 2011 was linked to ground turkey that infected close to 136 people in 34 states. In 2009 almost 400 people in 42 states were sickened after eating contaminated peanut butter.
In this study, published in the October issue of Food Control, Alali tested the effectiveness of adding a blend of oils to poultry drinking water. The product, Mix-Oil, is a highly concentrated blend of essential oils from thyme, eucalyptol and oregano developed by the Italian company Animal Wellness Products. Mix-Oil has been on the market since 2004 and is used for all animal species, including commercially raised fish.
Higher chicken profit
"Our field results show that Mix-Oil helps get better performance and better meat quality and always gives profitability," said AWP President Paolo Cristofori.
On a farm in Athens, Ga., Alali compared Mix-Oil to two organic acids traditionally used in the poultry industry to reduce the amount of salmonella the chickens carry. Currently farmers control salmonella in their flocks by administering vaccinations, "probiotics — a cocktail of good bacteria that compete with bad bacteria — and by adding acids to their drinking water," Alali said.
The right mix
"These extracts come from plant material, and they have antibacterial qualities. They have the ability to kill pathogens - we just have to come up with the right blend," Cristofori said.
The UGA study found the chickens that were fed Mix-Oil in their water had higher weight gains, a lower feed conversion rate and lower mortality rate. They also drank as much water as they did before the Mix-Oil regimen and more water than chickens that were given lactic acid to prevent salmonella.
"Chickens consume less water when one of the organic acids, lactic acid, is used because they don't like the taste of it," Alali said. "It can also inflame the chicken's intestines and, over time, it can damage the farm's water pipes."
Mix-oil reduced salmonella contamination in the chickens just "as well as lactic acid, and it improved the performance of the chickens," he said.
Salmonella typically collects in two chicken organs: the crop and the ceca. The crop is located at the base of the esophagus and the ceca is part of the large intestine.
Dowdy is a news editor with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.