For several months during the spring of his 10th grade year, Jack Millman had an unusual Saturday ritual: He and his mother would ride around metropolitan New York and buy up vast quantities of raw chicken.
Millman and his mother, Ann Marks, didn’t cook the poultry. Instead they put it on ice and shipped it overnight to a lab in Arizona, which tested it for antibiotic-resistant strains of the E. coli bacteria.
The study, which included 213 samples of raw chicken purchased at 15 locations in the New York area, found that kosher chicken has nearly twice the frequency of antibiotic-resistant strains as non-kosher. The results were first published in the journal F1000 Research in July.
The findings are perplexing. Kosher laws contain no requirements about how chickens are raised, and the only difference between kosher and conventional poultry is in the slaughtering and de-feathering.
Lance Price, a microbiologist with Translation Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix who helped design the study, suggested that kosher companies may be sourcing from producers or hatcheries that use more antibiotics.
But Joe Regenstein, a food scientist at Cornell University, and Timothy Lytton, the author of a recently published book on the kosher food industry, dispute that notion.
Writing recently in Food Safety News, Regenstein and Lytton say a likelier explanation lies in the kosher method of feather removal. Most poultry is placed in scalding water before plucking, but kosher poultry is dry plucked or soaked in very cold water due to restrictions prohibiting any form of cooking before the meat has been soaked and salted.
“Immersion in scalding water prior to plucking of non-kosher poultry production reduces microbial load, by either washing microbes away or by killing them, which might account for differences between kosher and other production methods,” Regenstein and Lytton wrote.
Millman, 17, who does not keep kosher, told JTA in an interview between classes at the prestigious Horace Mann School that he was “very surprised” by the findings. The Manhattan resident first became interested in kosher issues a few years ago during a family trip to Israel.