Love bacon? You won't love this: Nearly 83 percent of pork products sold in grocery stores are contaminated with disease-causing bacteria and drug residues, according to new tests from Consumer Reports.
The magazine, which has been advocating for drug- and antibiotic-free meats for quite some time, tested 240 whole and ground pork products to see if pork is proving to be as dirty as red meat and poultry have in previous tests. Surprise! It is. Here's what they found:
• Sixty-nine percent of the products tested positive for Yersinia enterocolitica, a bacterium that can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and 121 of those 132 samples were found to be resistant to one antibiotic; 52 were resistant to two or three antibiotics.
• Staph and salmonella bacteria infected 7 and 4 percent of the samples, respectively, and in both cases, nearly all the bacteria were resistant to at least one antibiotic.
• Of the products tested, 11 percent tested positive for E. coli bacteria, which, in addition to making you sick, can lead to urinary tract infections, and 12 of those contaminated samples harbored antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A recent report found that antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections have increased 30 percent in the past decade, and epidemiologists suspect that antibiotic-resistant bacteria on poultry (and now pork) are playing a role.
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• Twenty percent of the pork products contained residues of a drug called ractopamine, which is used to speed growth. The drug is given to 60 to 80 percent of pigs raised in the U.S. but has an iffy track record, according to Consumer Reports. There's been only one study evaluating its health effects in humans, and that study involved just six men. But what it found was that ractopamine may cause restlessness, anxiety, and elevated heart rates in humans.
Here are Consumer Reports' tips for protecting yourself from sickly pork.
• Always use a meat thermometer. Ensure that whole cuts of pork you cook are heated to 140 degrees and ground pork to 160 degrees to kill off any lingering bacteria. Also, follow basic food-safety precautions when handling raw pork: Separate it from other raw foods, such as salad, and wash your hands after handling it.
• Buy organic. That's the safest way to ensure that your pork will be drug free, since organic bans the use of antibiotics in animals raised for meat as well as ractopamine, and prior research has found that the absence of antibiotics results in meat with lower levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (but all meat, organic or not, can harbor bacteria, so it's important to follow the food-safety steps listed above). If you can't find certified-organic pork, meat that's been certified under the "Animal Welfare Approved" or "Certified Humane" labels comes from operations that use antibiotics to treat sick animals only.
• Don't trust unverified claims. Consumer Reports found a variety of unapproved claims on pork packages, including "no antibiotic residues" and "no antibiotic growth promotants." The only legal claim for antibiotics is "no antibiotics added," which should be accompanied by a "USDA Process Verified" shield. Similarly, many packages advertised "no hormones added," which is meaningless since the U.S. Department of Agriculture bans the use of hormones on pork.
• "Natural" has nothing to do with antibiotic use. Many people assume that "natural" products are just as good as organic, but cheaper. That can't be further from the truth. It is legal for meat labeled "natural" to come from animals that have been dosed with constant low-levels of antibiotics and other drugs. It's likely those animals were also fed genetically modified grains. Stick with organic or one of the other certifications mentioned to get truly drug-free pork.