An analysis in the January 2013 issue of Consumer Reports magazine revealed 69% of pork chops and ground pork that the organization sampled from around the U.S. tested positive for Yersinia enterocolitica, a bacteria that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), can result in fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Consumer Reports also found 3-7% of the samples harbored salmonella, staphylococcus aureus or listeria monocytogenes, other common pathogens for foodborne illness. Twenty-three percent of the samples contained none of the tested bacteria.
Of the 198 samples, the organization found other alleged complications with the "other white meat." The sampling also claims that some of the bacteria were resistant to typical antibiotics that are used to treat foodborne illnesses, such as amoxicillin, penicillin, tetracycline and streptomycin. Of the 132 samples with Yersinia enterocolitica, 121 of those were resistant to one or more antibiotics.
"The frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming may be accelerating the growth of drug-resistant 'superbugs' that threaten human health," said Consumer Reports.
The National Pork Board responded to the report in National Hog Farmer magazine. "We believe Consumer Reports has not accurately portrayed the safety and quality of pork products," said chief executive officer Chris Novak.
"Farms are a natural environment where bacteria are present, so farmers have invested millions of dollars in research to understand how antibiotics and other tools can help us produce a healthier, safer, product for consumers," added Steve Larsen, director of pork safety.
In a separate Consumer Reports sampling, one-fifth of 240 pork products contained traces of ractopamine, a controversial veterinary drug that promotes both growth and leanness in farm animals. Ractopamine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1999 for hogs, but it is banned in approximately 160 other countries - including China and the European Union.
Tested pork brands in the Consumer Report analysis include:
El Toreo Market
Farmer John California Natural
Food 4 Less
Fresh & Easy
The Fresh Market
Hormel Natural Choice
PCC Natural Markets
Sprouts Farmers Market and Farmers Market Old Tym
The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans each year contract a foodborne illness. To prevent Y. enterocolitica infections, the federal agency recommends the following steps:
1. Avoid eating raw or undercooked pork.
2. Consume only pasteurized milk or milk products.
3. Wash hands with soap and water before eating and preparing food, after contact with animals, and after handling raw meat.
4. After handling raw chitterlings, clean hands and fingernails scrupulously with soap and water before touching infants or their toys, bottles, or pacifiers. Someone other than the food handler should care for children while chitterlings are being prepared.
5. Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen: Use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods. Carefully clean all cutting boards, counter-tops, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing raw meat.
6. Dispose of animal feces in a sanitary manner.