Consumer Reports tests pork and finds antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Bacteria found in two-thirds of the samples

SAN DIEGO - 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," said Jamie Kopf, who is with Consumer Reports. "And even more troubling – the vast majority of the yersinia bacteria that we found were resistant to one or more commonly used antibiotics."

Consumer Reports also found a few pork samples were contaminated with other bacteria that can also be harmful, including salmonella and staphylococcus. 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," Kopf said.

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 is used in pigs to promote growth and make meat lean.     

A major pork producer, Smithfield, said 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."

But not everyone agrees with the FDA.

"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. Consumers Union is the policy arm of Consumer Reports.

Because of the test results, Consumer Reports recommends buying pork raised without antibiotics and ractopamine.

The group said consumers should look for meat labeled "certified organic." Another option is to buy from Whole Foods, which requires producers not to use antibiotics or ractopamine.

Consumer Reports also said it is important to cook pork thoroughly to kill any possible bacteria.

Whole pork like chops and pork tenderloin should be cooked to 145 degrees. Ground pork needs to reach 160 degrees.

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