January 16, 2018

Consumers Reports Study Finds Pork Contaminated with Yersinia

A new study conducted by Consumer Reports has found that 69% of ground pork and pork chops for sale in the United States was contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica, a pathogenic bacteria. Furthermore, some of the bacteria was antibiotic-resistant to multiple drugs or entire classes of drugs used to treat humans, posing a great threat to public health.

Important Notice RecallYersinia sickens 100,000 Americans a year, especially children, and can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Scientists also found the bacteria Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, or Listeria monocytogenes on 3 to 7 % of pork samples. Eleven percent of the samples had enterococcus, a mostly harmless bacteria that is an indicator of fecal contamination.

While an animal’s muscles, blood, and brain are sterile, during slaughter and processing, bacteria from the animal’s skin and intestinal tract can easily contaminate products. If processing lines run too quickly or if proper sanitary measures aren’t properly conducted, contamination happens much more easily.

This study once again raises the specter of antibiotic-resistant bacteria developing from large factory farm practices. Low level, or subtherapeutic, doses of antibiotics are given to many animals to promote growth and prevent infections that can occur under cramped or dirty living conditions. Many studies have shown this practice does foster the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. And those bacteria do make the jump to human beings.

One of the drugs given to animals, ractopamine, is commonly fed to most of the pigs raised in the U.S.  This drug is banned in the European Union, China, and Taiwan. Ractopamine was developed for treating asthma in people, but was never approved. The study found traces of the drug in 20% of tested samples.

While the National Pork Producers Council says that ractopamine is safe, and FDA testing found that the industry is meeting U.S. and international food-safety standards on the use of the drug and levels found in food, Consumers Union has pressed for a ban of the drug. Ractopamine, according to a study by NBC News, caused adverse drug reactions in pigs, including hyperactivity, inability to walk, trembling, and broken legs. A warning label was added to the drug in 2002.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a microbiologist, released a statement about this study. She said, “today’s findings are simply terrifying. It’s getting harder and harder for the food processing industry and the FDA to ignore the fact that the overuse of antibiotics in animals is threatening public health. Their half-measures and voluntary guidelines are no longer enough – we must act swiftly to reverse this public health crisis. I have legislation awaiting a vote in Congress to address this problem once and for all. And it’s time we pass it into law.”

Consumer Reports has steps you can take to minimize the risk of foodborne illness and to discourage the use of antibiotics in agriculture. Always cook whole pork cuts to at least 145 degrees F, and ground pork to 160 degrees F. Keep raw pork and other meats separate from other foods. Always wash your hands well after handling raw meat. Choose meat products that were raised without drugs; buy certified organic pork. Look for a clear statement regarding antibiotic use on the label. Some labels can be misleading. “Natural”, “no antibiotic residues”, and “no antibiotic growth promotants” are unapproved claims. Ask the store you patronize to carry pork and other meats raised without antibiotics. For more information, visit Eat Well Guide and Not In My Food.

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