A Consumer Reports analysis of pork purchased in American supermarkets and other shops reveals that many samples contained surprisingly high amounts of a bacterium that causes food poisoning. Compounding the concern is that many of the samples of the bacterium, Yersinia enterocolitica, proved to be antibiotic-resistant.
The magazine analyzed 148 samples of pork chops and 50 samples of ground pork for contamination, the meat was selected from a variety of stores in six American cities -- the stores from where the samples were purchased were not named.
Y. enterocolitica was found in 69 percent of the samples. Salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, which are all more-common causes of foodborne illness, were found in 3 to 7 percent of samples. And 11 percent of the samples had enterococcus, which suggest fecal contamination and may cause illnesses such as urinary-tract infections.
Although salmonella and E. coli usually steal the spotlight, Y. enterocolitica sickens about 100,000 Americans a year, commonly children.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), common symptoms in children infected with Y. enterocolitica include "fever, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, which is often bloody. Symptoms typically develop 4 to 7 days after exposure and may last 1 to 3 weeks or longer. In older children and adults, right-sided abdominal pain and fever may be the predominant symptoms, and may be confused with appendicitis. In a small proportion of cases, complications such as skin rash, joint pains, or spread of bacteria to the bloodstream can occur."
The magazine notes their concern that the majority of the samples it analyzed were resistant to at least one of the medically-prescribed antibiotics they used for testing in the lab. Many factory-farm raised animals are commonly fed antibiotics to keep them 'healthy' -- the practice is widely criticized because of the horror-movie potential for resistant strains of bacteria to dominate, and sure enough ... according to the report:
Some of the bacteria we found in 198 samples proved to be resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat people. The frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming may be accelerating the growth of drug-resistant “superbugs” that threaten human health.Photo courtesy: Flickr/podchef/CC BY 2.0
Also of note, about 20 percent of the 240 pork products analyzed also tested positive for the growth-hormone drug ractopamine. Originally developed as an asthma medication for humans, it was never approved for that use, but was later employed to increase pigs’ growth and lean muscle mass. (God forbid Eli Lilly should let a drug go to waste.) It’s a controversial drug, and is banned in the European Union, China, and Taiwan -- Consumer Reports' food-safety experts posit that no drugs should be used in healthy animals to promote growth.
There are steps consumers can take to avoid Y. enterocolitica in pork. Most importantly, make sure that the pork is cooked to 145 degrees for whole pieces of meat and 160 degrees for ground pork. But the best way to ensure avoiding illness from industrially-raised meat? Avoid it all together.