Discolored chicken leads consumer on quest for fowl truthWORTHINGTON — This is the tale of a chicken, full of pluck and color, perhaps signifying something.
By: Jane Turpin Moore, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — This is the tale of a chicken, full of pluck and color, perhaps signifying something.
When Tiffany Basiliere, a Worthington resident and mother of three, prepared dinner for her family last Wednesday night, she got both more — and less — than she’d expected.
“I’ve heard of green eggs and ham, but not green eggs and chicken,” she said.
The Southern Hens brand of frozen chicken Basiliere purchased at the Worthington Wal-Mart Supercenter was to be the meal’s centerpiece, and the conscientious cook appropriately thawed the chicken in her refrigerator before placing it in the oven the following day with plenty of time to cook before dinnertime.
“While it was cooking, the temperature on the meat thermometer wouldn’t go up past 160 degrees, so after about four hours, I thought it would be a dried-out mess,” said Basiliere, who finally figured the thermometer must be wrong.
Although the 6.53-pound bird had been baking for four hours or more, Basiliere’s husband, Jim, was startled to see the interior meat had a greenish-yellowish cast and an unusual, blob-like texture when he cut into the fowl.
“Jim is a microbiologist, and he said right away, ‘Nobody’s eating this,’” recounted Basiliere. “So we had green beans and peanut butter sandwiches that night instead. I was really disappointed.”
The following morning, Basiliere contacted Wal-Mart out of her worry that something might be very wrong with the chicken she had purchased, and that perhaps others of the same brand might have a similar problem.
“But management didn’t seem at all concerned,” Basiliere said. “They said, ‘Well, you’ll get a refund and a replacement,’ but I thought they would need to know the brand and more information.”
Basiliere, a regular Wal-Mart shopper, stopped by the store later that morning to pick up her refund and grab a few more groceries. She was stunned, however, when she walked by the freezer case and noticed that all the Southern Hens chickens (produced and processed by the Mississippi-based company) remained in place, ready for other consumers to buy.
“I was flabbergasted,” Basiliere said.
She then called the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, which referred her to the Minnesota Better Business Bureau, which told her to contact the Minnesota State Health Department.
“They told me to call the inspector for this part of the state, so I left a message at that number,” the persistent Basiliere reported. “They told me to contact the Southern Hens company in Mississippi, so I left a message with a receptionist.”
The Daily Globe followed up on Basiliere’s chicken trail and contacted Wal-Mart, which referred this reporter to Kayla Whaling, a Wal-Mart media relations spokesperson at Wal-Mart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
Whaling immediately offered to look into the problem and contact the Wal-Mart food safety team.
“It appears there may have been some bruising on the chicken, which can occur if the chicken was particularly active in flapping its wings,” Whaling reported the next day. “Still, that is not an excuse, and we have apologized to the customer for this experience.
“We will work with a third-party lab team to ensure there are no safety issues associated with this, and we are in the process of getting the product label from the customer.”
Whaling continued, “Our food safety is very important to us, and we want our customers to have the best-quality food.”
Nevertheless, Whaling confirmed Wal-Mart was still offering Southern Hens chickens for sale, and said there was “no reason for a recall at this time.”
Basiliere, who later noted that no Wal-Mart employee contacted her directly, said a Southern Hens representative, Randy Sanford, did call her. Sanford asked her to send him photos of the chicken and of the package label.
He concurred with Wal-Mart’s conclusion: bruising caused the meat discoloration.
At the Daily Globe’s request, a southwest Minnesota-based USDA inspector also reviewed Basiliere’s photos and suggested the problem’s root could be Green Muscle Disease, or Oregon’s Disease, which the ZooTecnica website defines as “a hidden problem in modern-day broiler chickens.”
Green Muscle Disease, the website said, “is a common name given to a degenerative muscle disease known as Deep Pectoral Myopathy (DPM), which “is being seen more in meat-type chickens.”
“The condition is not associated with any infectious agent and therefore has no public health significance other than affecting the aesthetic appearance of the meat,” the website went on to say.
Symptoms of DPM described on the ZooTecnica website appear to be consistent with the chicken complaint.
Still, Basiliere was more than a little ruffled that Wal-Mart was initially slow to respond to what she felt was a valid customer concern.
“I’ve baked many a chicken and not had that much problem,” Basiliere said. “You have to advocate for your children and your community, and I make sure I follow through.
“Why not take the chickens off the shelf for a while until they could determine there wasn’t a bigger problem?” Basiliere said. “That would make me more comfortable as a consumer.”
In the meantime, Basiliere has determined to make one change in her shopping routine.
“For my meats, I will stick with W-2’s now,” Basiliere said. “It’s local, and they can tell me right away what I need to know about what I’m buying.”