An analysis of pork chop and ground-pork products from six U.S. cities has turned up high rates of bacteria that can cause serious food-borne illness, Consumer Reports has found.
The testing by the magazine’s specialists found high rates of yersinia enterocolitica, a bacterium that is particularly dangerous to children. What’s more, the analysis found the majority of the yersinia detected — as well as a substantial portion of other bacteria — were resistant to antibiotics, suggesting the misuse of such drugs on farms is driving a rise in resistant bugs.
“Antibiotics are routinely fed to healthy animals at low levels. This practice promotes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria which are a major public health concern,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director of Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. “Infections caused by resistant bacteria are more difficult to treat and can lead to increased suffering and costs.”
The analysis also turned up very low levels of ractopamine, a drug used to promote growth and leanness in pigs that is approved for use in the United States, but has been banned in China, Taiwan, and Europe over safety concerns.
“No drugs, including ractopamine and antibiotics, should be fed routinely to healthy animals for growth promotion and to prevent disease. These practices are harmful to public health, which is why they are banned in Europe,” said Dr. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist for Consumer Reports.
Consumer Reports tested 148 samples of meat from pork chops and 50 from ground pork sold in major and store brands for bacteria, as well as another 240 pork products for ractopamine. Among the key findings:
• Yersinia was found in 69 percent of the tested pork samples. Ground pork was more likely than pork chops to harbor pathogens The bacteria cause foodborne illness in about 100,000 Americans a year, especially children.
• Salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes — more well-known causes of foodborne illness — were found in up to 7 percent of samples. And 11 percent harbored enterococcus, which can indicate fecal contamination and can cause urinary-tract infections.
• Most of the bacteria were resistant to at least one antibiotic drug.
• Very low, but detectible levels of ractopamine were found in about one-fifth of the samples tested for the drug. While levels were below U.S. and international limits, Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports, called for a ban on the drug, citing insufficient evidence that it is safe.
Researchers suggested consumers can minimize their risks by washing their hands thoroughly after preparing raw meat; placing cutting boards and other utensils used to prepare raw meat directly into the dishwasher or washing them thoroughly with soap; using a meat thermometer when cooking pork to ensure it reaches the proper internal temperature to kill bacteria — 145 degrees for whole pork and 160 for ground pork.
Consumers can also choose pork and other meat products raised without drugs, such as those labeled “certified organic,” which means the animal was raised without antibiotics or ractopamine. Products labeled “Animal Welfare Approved” or “Certified Humane” prohibit the use of ractopamine and allow antibiotics only for disease treatment.
The complete report and analysis can be found in the January 2013 issue of Consumer Reports and online at www.ConsumerReports.org.