Consumer Reports: Pork Contamination Concerns

November 27, 2012 3:04:14 AM PST
It used to be trichinosis was the big fear when eating pork, but the risk of getting that disease has been largely eliminated. However, Consumer Reports' latest tests of pork find there are new reasons to take precautions when eating pork.

Pork is a staple in many American diets. But Consumer Reports' lab tests of nearly 200 samples of pork chops and ground pork found cause for concern. More than two-thirds were contaminated with a bacterium called yersinia enterocolitica.

"This bug can cause fever and abdominal pain. And even more troubling -- the vast majority of the yersinia bacteria that we found were resistant to one or more commonly used antibiotics," said Consumer Reports' Jamie Kopf.

Consumer Reports also found a few pork samples were contaminated with other bacteria that can also be harmful, including salmonella and staphylococcus. And, again, some of the bacteria were resistant to certain antibiotics.

"Antibiotic resistance is worrisome because it can lead to infections in humans that are more difficult to treat."

On hog farms, healthy pigs are commonly given low doses of antibiotics to prevent infections and promote growth. That can accelerate the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

A second Consumer Reports test of 240 pork samples found about 20 percent had traces of the drug ractopamine. That's used in pigs to promote growth and make meat lean.

A major pork producer, Smithfield, says ractopamine is "a safe and effective Food and Drug Administration approved feed supplement that has been widely used in the hog farming industry for many years."

"The levels we found were well below the limits set by the FDA. But Consumers Union believes that it should be banned because there isn't enough evidence it's safe for humans," Kopf said.

So Consumer Reports recommends buying pork raised without antibiotics and ractopamine. And it's important to cook pork thoroughly to kill any possible bacteria.

All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2012. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not for profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumerreports.org.

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