Consumer Reports Finds Harmful Bacteria in Ground Turkey

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An analysis of raw ground turkey revealed a surprising amount of risky bacteria and a few cases of potentially deadly bacteria. The turkey industry disputes the results.

More than half the 257 packages of raw ground turkey tested in a new Consumer Reports investigation contained fecal bacteria.

The report said:

Some samples harbored other germs, including salmonella and staphylococcus aureus, two of the leading causes of foodborne illness in the U.S. Overall, 90 percent of the samples had one or more of the five bacteria for which we tested.

Nearly all the bacteria they found were also resistant to at least one commonly used antibiotic, CR said. Such bacteria could cause food poisoning and urinary, bloodstream and other infections, and in rare cases could be fatal.

These bacteria are killed during proper cooking, CR says. But precautions are still warranted, including making fresh meat the last item you pick up at the store, freezing meat you don’t plan to cook in the next couple days, and washing hands and surfaces thoroughly after handling raw meat.

Consumers Union, the advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports, used the findings to argue that the government should enforce stricter food safety standards and ban antibiotics for animal production except to treat illness.

The report said:

Turkeys (and other food animals, including chickens and pigs) are given antibiotics to treat acute illness; but healthy animals may also get drugs daily in their food and water to boost their rate of weight gain and to prevent disease. Many of the drugs are similar to antibiotics important in human medicine.

That practice, especially prevalent at large feedlots and mass-production facilities, is speeding the growth of drug-resistant superbugs, a serious health concern.

The National Turkey Federation issued a press release challenging Consumer Reports’ findings and methodology. It argued that CR highlighted the presence of less dangerous but common bacteria such as E. coli, and that more dangerous ones, including salmonella, were relatively rare. It also claimed that CR tested for resistance to antibiotics that are infrequently or no longer used, and therefore overstated the importance of its findings.

Three out of the 257 samples CR tested, about 1 percent, contained MRSA, a bacterium that can cause severe illness or death. The National Turkey Federation said those samples were an understandable cause for concern, but that the larger report was presented without enough context.

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