Harmful Bacteria Found in Ground Turkey Samples

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By: Russell Maas | Published: May 9th, 2013

A recent investigation by Consumer Reports has found a 90% contamination rate among randomly selected brands of ground turkey purchased from retail stores in 21 states, with half of the samples testing positive for fecal bacteria and other contaminants that may cause life-threatening food borne illnesses.

The prominent consumer watchdog organization conducted a study that sampled 257 randomly selected brands of ground turkey in retail stores and tested them for five commonly found bacteria that may cause food poisoning.

According to the report, 9 out of every 10 samples were contaminated with potentially harmful bacteria, including fecal bacteria, salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, enterococcus, and E. coli.

In 60% of the samples the ground turkey products contained fecal bacteria and 80% of the enterococcus bacteria were resistant to three or more antibiotics fed to the turkeys in the farming process.

During the production process of farming animals for food, the animals are given FDA approved antibiotics to eliminate acute illnesses that can be passed on to consumers. Before the birds are slaughtered, the antibiotics are withdrawn to clear the residue in the birds’ system, but animals can commonly exchange genetic material after the fact that may result in accelerated antibiotic resistance.

Consumer Reports noted one case of a 66-year-old woman from Ohio infected by Salmonella contaminated ground turkey in 2011. She was hospitalized for five days and says she has had to see a gastroenterologist regularly to this day.

Results of the study showed that of the 257 samples taken, at least one disease in each of the samples proved to be resistant to the antibiotics given to kill the bacteria. Of those antibiotic-resistant disease’s, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA) appeared in three samples, which can cause fatal infections.

The study also showed 12 of the 257 samples contained salmonella and 8 of those 12 samples testing positive for salmonella were resistant to three or more antibiotics given during the farming process to kill the bacteria.

A salmonella bacterium has over 2,300 serotypes of bacteria that are impossible to see from the naked eye. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Salmonella infections account for roughly 1.4 million food borne illnesses per year and roughly 400 fatalities annually in the United States alone.

The results of the reports also indicate 155 samples contained harmful strands of E. coli and 135 of those samples tested to be resistant to one or more antibiotics intended to kill the bacteria. Also, 82 of the E. coli samples tested to be resistant to three or more of the antibiotics.

Consumer Reports concluded that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards are not strict enough because they allow over 12% contamination to pass inspection in the ground turkey samples. The study also concluded that 21 states were selling ground turkey with potentially fatal bacteria in 90% of the randomly selected samples.

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