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SEOUL — Don’t expect any fresh chicken at any of South Korea’s 12 U.S. commissaries in the near future, U.S. military medical officials say.

That’s because more recent tests of harmful bacteria levels in the chicken from the commissaries’ South Korean supplier still fail to meet U.S. standards, according to Col. Stanley E. Smith, the commander of the 106th Medical Detachment, which ensures food safety on bases.

The testing is done at Moguchon, the South Korean chicken company that contracts with the U.S. military, Smith wrote in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. He has instructed his inspectors to wait until the recent outbreak of avian flu in South Korea has passed before taking more tests, Smith wrote.

“I cannot tell you when customers can expect to have fresh Korean poultry in the commissary and I will not accelerate putting these products on the shelf until I feel it is a safe product,” Smith wrote to Stripes. “We have plenty of frozen safe U.S. products to choose from, and customers have the right to go off the installation to buy local poultry if they choose.”

The continued suspension of fresh chicken and other poultry at the commissaries is not directly linked to avian flu, Smith said. Rather, the military pulled the Moguchon chicken from the commissaries earlier this fall after finding some strains of E.coli bacteria in higher-than-normal levels among the chicken, officials have said.

But humans can contract avian flu when exposed to live poultry.

In late November, avian flu was detected at chicken farms in the southern part of South Korea, the first sign of the deadly virus in the country in three years. Farmers and the South Korean government are culling hundreds of thousands of chickens, ducks, dogs and pigs in response. No cases of human infection have been reported.

Moguchon officials this week said they are continuing to introduce factory improvements to appease the U.S. concerns.

The company is spending 900 million won, or $973,000, for new equipment and to increase quality management staffing, according to Lee Hyeung-guen, the company’s general manager.

Lee said the company’s contract with United States Forces Korea accounts for less than 2 percent of its overall sales, but the suspension of military base deliveries hurts the company’s public relations.

Smith reminded customers that it is safe to eat chicken and eggs that are thoroughly cooked, though he urged caution when handling raw eggs and chicken, no matter the source.

Stars and Stripes’ Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this story.


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