August 16, 2018

Turkey Federation: Consumer Reports Article “Misleading”

The National Turkey Federation (NTF)  is disputing claims in a study published in Consumer Reports this week that more than half of raw ground turkey and raw ground turkey patties sold at grocery stores  throughout the U.S. tested positive for fecal bacteria. The group, which advocates on behalf of the $29.5 billion turkey industry, posted a statement on its website taking issue with some of the claims.

Petri Dish“The National Turkey Federation (NTF) strongly disputes the misleading findings of a Consumer Reports article about ground turkey, which makes a number of alarming claims based on an extremely small sampling of ground turkey products,”  the statement begins. It then lists four points, the first of which is that generic E. coli is not considered a source of foodborne illness.

That statement is at odds with what health and  food safety professionals believe,  including those at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency responsible for ensuring that the nation’s supply of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe.  An excerpt from a document titled “Pathogen Reduction – Generic E. coli Testing” published by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says, “Fecal contamination is one of the principal sources of pathogenic organisms that contaminate carcasses. The best indicator of fecal contamination is Escherichia coli, Biotype I, also called generic E. coli, because it is commonly found in the intestinal tract of food animals. ”  Just one strain, E. coli O157:H7 , sickens thousands of Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The NTF later adds that “enterococcus and generic E. coli are everywhere, and there is more than one way they can wind up on food animals. In fact, it’s so common; studies have shown that generic E. coli and MRSA can even be found on about 20 percent of computer keyboards.”

The group’s next point is that Consumer Reports found levels of Campylobacter and Salmonella to be very low.  “This is borne out by more extensive government testing, which finds almost 90 percent of all ground turkey and 97 percent of whole turkeys are Salmonella-free.  While the turkey industry strives to control all bacteria on its products, it focuses primarily on those bacteria that present the greatest threat to human health,” the statement says.

Finally, the NTF mentions  one of the magazine’s claims about antibiotic resistance, a major public health risk. The study found 135 E. coli samples and 11 Salmonella samples were resistant to one antibiotic and that 82 of the E. coli samples and eight of the Salmonella samples were resistant to three or more antibiotics. The study also found that bacteria on turkey labeled  “no antibiotics” “organic” or “raised without antibiotics” were less likely than other turkey to resist antibiotics.

The NTF’s response was:  “One of the antibiotics for which it tested (ciprofloxacin) has not been used in poultry production for almost eight years, meaning resistance is highly unlikely to be from farm-animal use, and two other drug classes (penicillin and cephalosporin) are used infrequently in animal agriculture. “

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