Nearly seventy percent of ground turkey samples tested by Consumer Reports researchers contained enterococcus, harmful bacteria harbored by fecal matter, and 60 percent of the samples also contained Escherichia coli (E. coli), another pathogen associated with the fecal contamination.
According to Consumer Reports, a test of 257 retail samples of ground turkey taken from 21 states and encompassing 27 different brands found that more than 90 percent of the samples contained at least one of five bacteria researchers were watching for: Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, enterococcus, and campylobacter.
The Consumer Reports study also found the disease-causing pathogens were resistant to the antibiotics used to fight them in samples of turkey that weren’t organic or antibiotic-free. Factory farms typically rely on massive amounts of antibiotics to keep livestock from becoming sick while they are raised in crowded, dirty pens.
For years, biologists and medical experts have raised red flags over the use of antibiotics in corporate farming because the practice encourages the development of more and more virulent strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Consumer Reports notes that these “superbugs” are a “serious health concern” and that “people sickened by those bacteria might need to try several antibiotics before one succeeds.”
The report provides some real-life case examples of people who have been sickened by contaminated turkey, such as Diane Goodpasture, 66, of Akron, Ohio. Ms. Goodpasture “was sickened with salmonella Heidelberg from ground turkey in June 2011 and was hospitalized for five days” the report explains.
“I’ve had complications ever since then,” she told Consumer Reports. “I’m still seeing a gastroenterologist. I don’t know that I’ll ever be well.”
Consumer Reports says that “common slip-ups while handling or cooking ground turkey” can make you sick. “Although the bacteria we found are killed by thorough cooking, they can produce toxins that may not be destroyed by heat.”
The magazine advises consumers to take the following precautions:
* Buy turkey labeled “organic” or “no antibiotics,” especially if it also has a “USDA Process Verified” label, which means that the USDA has confirmed that the producer is doing what it says. Organic and no-antibiotics brands in Consumer Reports tests were: Coastal Range Organics, Eberly, Giant Eagle Nature’s Basket, Harvestland, Kosher Valley, Nature’s Place, Nature’s Promise, Nature’s Rancher, Plainville Farms, Wegmans, Whole Foods and Wild Harvest.
* Consider other labels, such as “animal welfare approved” and “certified humane,” which mean that antibiotics were restricted to sick animals.
* Be aware that “natural” meat is simply minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients or added color. It can come from an animal that ate antibiotics daily.
* Know that no type of meat — whether turkey, chicken, beef, or pork — is risk free.
* Buy meat just before checking out, and place it in a plastic bag to prevent leaks.
* If you will cook meat within a couple of days, store it at 40° F or below. Otherwise, freeze it. (Note that freezing may not kill bacteria.)
* Cook ground turkey to at least 165° F. Check with a meat thermometer.
* Wash hands and all surfaces after handling ground turkey.
* Don’t return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw.