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Ground Turkey off the Dinner Table: Study Finds Ground Turkey Can Contain Deadly Bacteria

Update Date: May 01, 2013 01:37 PM EDT
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With research studies consistently denouncing red meat, such as beef and pork, as unhealthy food options, people might be considering a shift to white meat, such as chicken and turkey. Even though these white meat options might be healthier for the body and kinder to the waistline, a new report published by Consumer Reports found that an overwhelmingly large percentage of ground turkey found in United States' supermarkets contain some kind of bacteria. The report, the first-ever laboratory analysis done on ground turkey within the U.S. by Consumer Reports, announced that over half of the samples it tested contained fecal bacteria, while other packages of the raw meat tested positive for Salmonella and staphylococcus aureus. Although discovering that 90 percent of the samples contained at least one of the five bacteria it was tested for, what was more alarming was that all samples of raw meat were resistant to antibiotics, which would be used to treat the bacterial infections.

The Consumer Reports study sampled 257 ground turkey and ground turkey patties. They found that 69 percent of the samples had Enterococcus and 60 percent had Escherichia coli, which are considered fecal bacteria. Around 80 percent of the Enterococcus bacteria were resistant to three and more groups of antibiotics that would be used to treat this particular bacterial infection. Live animals, like turkey and chicken, are often fed antibiotics to treat small illnesses or infections. However, in some cases, the animals are fed antibiotics daily in their foods and water to help them grow and gain weight faster. This constant administration of antibiotics could explain why the bacteria have developed resistance. The researchers also found methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus in three samples, which can lead to serious and fatal infections.

Consumer Reports also found that products with the labels "organic," "raised without antibiotics" and "no antibiotics," did not ensure safety. These products were also as likely to contain bacteria that were found in the products without labels, but tended to be less likely to have developed resistance to superbugs. Consumer Reports recommends people to continue to buy the "organic" label along with "USDA Process Verified" label to be extra safe. Other labels that indicate no antibiotics usage are "animal welfare approved" and "certified humane." Aside from labels, the study recommends consumers to cook their meats thoroughly and to sanitize hands and kitchen tools before and after they have dealt with raw meat.

The National Turkey Federation has responded to the new report and stated that the sample size was too small to be considered significant. The president of the federation, Joel Brandenberger, stated, "Consumer Reports had the opportunity to foster a serious, thoughtful discussion about food safety, but instead it chose to sensationalize findings and mislead people."

Whether or not Consumer Reports dramatized its results, the fact that the turkey samples had bacteria that were antibiotic-resistant is alarming. The Consumer Reports study can be found here.

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