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Raw Pork Contaminated with Drug-Resistant Bacteria

November 30, 2012 — An investigation conducted by Consumer Reports has discovered that most raw pork is contaminated with bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Alarmingly, many of the samples of bacteria were also resistant to at least one type of antibiotic, raising concern about the widespread practice of feeding pigs low-dose antibiotics to promote growth and resist infection.

The researchers found that 69% of 198 samples of raw pork tested positive for yersinia enterocolitica, which is estimated to cause food poisoning in 100,000 Americans every year. They found that ground pork products were more likely to be contaminated than pork chops, likely due to processing equipment spreading bacteria.

The researchers also found that dozens of samples tested positive for Salmonella, Enterococcus, Staphylococcus aureus, and Listeria monocytogenes.

Then they investigated the drug resistance of each pathogen against 13 types of antibiotics. Nearly all of the Yersinia bacteria (92%) were resistant to at least one type of antibiotic. Of these, 39% of samples were resistant to two or three antibiotics.

The report raises concerns about the emergence of drug-resistant “super-bacteria” in livestock. In pig farming, it is standard practice to feed the animals low-dose antibiotics to prevent widespread infection and promote growth. These antibiotics do a good job of killing weak bacteria, but they promote the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs. When the animal is slaughtered, it is highly likely to harbor bacteria on its skin or in its intestines that are resistant to one or more antibiotics.

During slaughter, the drug-resistant bacteria can be transmitted to the meat of the animal by poor slaughtering practices, contaminated processing equipment, and human workers. Bacteria in the product could potentially sicken a consumer who does not follow safe food handling or cooking procedures. Unfortunately, once the person becomes ill with food poisoning, treating the infection may be difficult or impossible if the pathogen is resistant to antibiotics.

The researchers recommended taking several steps to minimize the risk of food poisoning:

  • Purchase pork products that are clearly labeled with “No Antibiotics Used.” Beware misleading labels. “Natural” does not necessarily mean the animal was not treated with antibiotics.
  • Use a cooking thermometer to heat ground pork to 145°, or 160° for ground pork.
  • Ensure that raw pork or juices do not touch other foods or surfaces.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling raw pork.

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