Food Poisoning from Chicken, Ground Beef Cause Most Hospitalizations

A new report ranks ground beef and chicken as the riskiest meat and poultry products in the American food supply, causing the highest number of hospitalizations due to food poisoning.

The rankings were released yesterday as part of a report published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).   

Researchers at the CSPI analyzed more than 33,000 cases of foodborne illness in 12 different categories of meat and poultry over a period of 12 years. The report, Risky Meat: A Field Guide to meat & Poultry Safety, focused on different types of meat and poultry and their corresponding risk factor to cause illness.

Using information from nearly 1,700 outbreaks, the CSPI determined ground beef and chicken also caused the most severe illnesses, resulting from E. coli, Clostridium perfringens, Norovirus and Campylobacter. Ground beef is especially at risk for certain pathogens because the pathogens can spread during the grinding process.

E. coli and Salmonella accounted for a third of illnesses and Clostridium accounted for another third.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate nearly 48 million Americans are sickened by foodborne pathogens every year. E. coli results in hospitalization in nearly half of those infected.

“Outbreaks from ground beef and chicken are reported frequently, and all too often cause debilitating illnesses—illnesses that lead to hospitalization,” said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. “For example, approximately a quarter of those who are sickened by Salmonella will go to the hospital. The hospitalization rate for E. coli infections is nearly 50 percent and for Listeria infections it is more than 90 percent.”

Other Risky Meats and Poultry

Steak and turkey were listed as “high risk” food products on the CSPI’s second tier of food safety. The highest number of illnesses coming from Clostridium are seen during November and December. A statistic that points to the holiday turkey as the culprit for the illnesses, a byproduct of the bird being left out on the table too long.

Meats found to be of “medium risk” in the report include beef and pork barbecue, deli meat, pork chops and roast beef. Among these meats Listeria affects many people, resulting in hospitalization for nearly 94 percent of those who become infected.

Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus were the most common pathogens for the barbecue meats, not including chicken, and pork meats, which exclude ham.

Researchers determined the lowest risk groups of meat to cause foodborne illness include chicken nuggets, ham and sausage.

“Meat and poultry producers must bear primary responsibility for keeping pathogens out of their products, but when it comes to beef, chicken, and other raw meats, restaurateurs and home cooks must treat them like hazardous materials and take steps to minimize risk,” said CSPI senior food safety attorney Sarah Klein.

Food Poisoning Prevention

The CSPI says there are many things consumers can do to protect themselves from food poisoning illnesses. Remember to keep hot foods hot, refrigerate foods within two hours of serving and use a shallow storage dishes to ensure rapid chilling to reduce the risk of pathogens.

The CSPI also recommends practicing “defensive eating,” by preventing juices from meat and poultry from touching other food or dripping onto counters, washing cutting boards and plates which held raw meat and practice frequent hand washing to prevent contamination.

According to the CSPI, the report is meant to be an assessment of food safety risk which is a separate evaluation from risk of chronic diet related disease by saturated fat or sodium.

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