The nation's most popular meat, may not be so popular anymore.
A report released Thursday from Consumer Reports finds that 97 percent of chicken purchased in stores across the U.S. contains harmful bacteria, including organic brands.
Consumer Reports tested more than 300 raw chicken breasts from major brands like Tyson, Perdue, Sanderson Farms and Pilgrim's which all harbored types of bacteria.
"We tested the chicken for six bacteria, including salmonella and campylobacter, which are common causes of food poisoning, and E. coli and enterococcus, which are typical measures of fecal contamination," said Urvashi Rangan, Ph. D. for Consumer Reports.
More than half of the chicken tested was tainted with E. coli and enterococcus.
Of the chicken sampled, they tested those that claim to be "Antibiotic Free" and "Organic." They found no significant difference between the labels of chicken.
Reports say that 48 million fall ill to eating tainted food each year. Of these, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that "more deaths were attributed to poultry than to any other commodity."
3,000 people die from eating food tainted with salmonella and campylobacter -- the same bacteria found in chicken.
President of the National Chicken Council commented in response to Consumer Reports, stating, "Eliminating bacteria entirely is always the goal, but in reality, it's simply not feasible."
Some of the bacteria found is naturally found in the chicken's digestive tract when it's alive and does not harm the animal, but is transferred during the slaughtering process, according to public health experts.
Chicken raised in the U.S. are often treated with subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics to prevent disease. The practice of antibiotic overuse can have disastrous side effects, as it can lead to antibiotic resistance and then serves no purpose.
Consumer Reports found one multi-drug resistance pathogen in half of the sampled chicken, even those that were treated with antibiotics.
The Food and Drug Administration recently announced Guidance No. 213 on using drugs for animals. The new rules says that all antibiotics in feed and water should require a veterinarian's approval and that traditional antibiotics in feed and water to promote growth should be phased out.
The National Chicken Council says that they will continue to work with the FDA to phase out the growth-promoting antibiotics by 2016.
Up until earlier this year when the FDA banned three specific drugs, the chickens you were bringing to the table were being fed arsenic. Roxaesone, carbarsone and arsanilic acid, have been used to feed chickens, pigs and turkeys for years, but recent studies found the levels of arsenic in chicken exceeded the natural limit, according to the New York Times.
It's unrealistic to expect uncooked food to not contain any bacteria, but Consumer Reports says that with a type of poultry so heavy in bacteria, it's important to prevent the raw meat from touching any surfaces. The most common way that people become infected is by cross-contamination in the kitchen.
"We take the safety of our chicken very seriously," said the President of the NCC, Mike Brown. "After all, our families are eating the same chicken as you and yours." The council maintains that they are and will continue to follow science-based procedures to keep chicken clean.
When preparing chicken, wash hands when handling any type of meat before and after, use a cutting board that was cleaned directly before and don't run the chicken under water before cooking it -- the water will splash the bacteria to areas you can't see and will spread the bacteria.
The CDC says poultry should be cooked at 165 degrees and checked with a thermometer to ensure that it has been fully cooked.
Avoid labels such as "natural" and "free range." Natural simply means it contains no artificial ingredients but no inspection is required to verify that.
Most labels are meaningless, as there is no inspection required to verify what they are claiming.
However, labels such as "certified humane" and "no GMOs" do require verification.
Read more about labels on chicken, here.
Related: Arsenic in food.
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