November 30, 2012 — A Consumer Reports analysis of raw pork products has discovered that the majority of samples were contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica, a type of bacteria that causes at least 100,000 Americans to suffer food poisoning every year. Even more troubling, the investigation found that some of the bacteria were resistant to several types of antibiotics. The report raises concerns about the standard practice of feeding low-dose antibiotics to pigs, which may accelerate the emergence of drug-resistant “super-bacteria.”
The investigators tested 198 samples of raw pork (including 148 samples of pork chops and 50 from ground pork) and found that almost 70% (132 samples) tested positive for yersinia enterocolitica, which can cause food poisoning in people who eat raw or undercooked pork. The researchers then tested the bacteria’s resistance to 13 types of antibiotics. They found that 92% were resistant to at least one antibiotic, and 39% were resistant to two or three antibiotics.
The investigators also found dozens of samples of Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus, and Salmonella that were resistant to at least one type of antibiotic.
The problem is that animals and humans have potentially harmful bacteria on their skin. When a pig is slaughtered and processed, meat can become contaminated with bacteria from the animal’s skin, intestines, workers, or equipment. While the animal is still alive, it is standard practice for pig farmers to feed low doses of antibiotics to the animals. The antibiotics kill weak bacteria, but encourage the growth of bacteria that are resistant to at least one drug. By the time the animal is slaughtered, it may harbor bacteria that do not respond to antibiotics.
If a human were to become sick with a drug-resistant bacteria from contaminated pork or other meat product, it is possible that the infection would be difficult or impossible to treat in a hospital because the bacteria is resistant to antibiotics. This could lead to severe consequences, including death.
The researchers recommended that consumers cook pork products to an internal temperature of at least 145° for whole pork and 160° for ground pork. Consumers should also take care to segregate pork products and juices separate from other foods, decontaminate surfaces in contact with pork thoroughly, and wash your hands after touching raw meat. Furthermore, consumers can choose to purchase pork clearly labeled with “No Antibiotics Used.” Pork labeled “Natural” may still be raised with antibiotics.
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