You may not know what’s in a chicken nugget, but it’s actually one of the safest things to eat when it comes to food poisoning.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) announced Tuesday that chicken nuggets, ham, and sausage pose the lowest risk of foodborne illness. But in non-nugget form, chicken is a different animal altogether. 

Chicken and ground beef topped the risk list after the nonprofit watchdog group analyzed more than 33,000 cases of food poisoning in the U.S. over the course of 12 years. They determined that those two kinds of meat cause more—and more severe cases—of food poisoning than any other type. 

The CSPI report states that chicken and ground beef were responsible for a combined 788 outbreaks and 10,697 cases of illness, while chicken nuggets, ham, and sausage only accounted for 140 outbreaks and 2,120 cases of illness during the 12-year period. 

Other forms of beef, steak, and turkey were given “high” contamination ratings, while barbecue, deli meat, pork, and roast beef were given “medium” ratings.

Food Poisoning Cases on the Rise

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that despite increased efforts, the rate of food poisoning incidents rose slightly in recent years, while two different types of bacteria are also on the rise. 

CSPI called the CDC’s report on the rise of Campylobacter- and Vibrio vulnificus-related hospitalizations “troubling.” These infections have risen 14 and 43 percent, respectively, since 2008, the CDC said.

In 2012, there were 19,531 cases of foodborne illness confirmed by a laboratory, but the CDC says that the number of actual cases may be between two and 142 times higher than reported. They estimate that as many as 48 million Americans experience some type of food poisoning annually.

Practicing Safe Food Etiquette

In terms of food safety, a little preparation goes a long way. By cooking meats to their proper temperature, you can drastically reduce your risk of foodborne illnesses.

The risk of food contamination can be drastically reduced by washing your hands and all cooking surfaces properly, avoiding cross-contamination between raw meat and produce, and immediately chilling or freezing leftovers after a meal.

The CDC recommends the following minimum internal temperatures for meats:

  • fresh poultry, including chicken and turkey: 160 F
  • ground beef and other meat mixtures: 160 F
  • pork and ham: 145 F

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