On Tuesday a new study from Consumer Reports on raw pork chops and ground pork found that 69 percent of the samples tested were contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica, a lesser-known yet no less serious foodborne pathogen.
The tests also found Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Listeria monocytogenes in 3 to 7 percent of samples, while 11 percent carried Enterococcus, which can cause urinary-tract infections.
But 69 percent for Yersinia enterocolitica, which causes fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, is frighteningly high. Additionally, some of the bacteria were found to be resistant to antibiotics, likely the result of "the frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming" which is "accelerating the growth of drug-resistant 'superbugs' that threaten human health."
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a vocal critic of agriculture's use of antibiotics, called the results "simply terrifying." In an official statement she said,
It's getting harder and harder for the food processing industry and the FDA to ignore the fact that the overuse of antibiotics in animals is threatening public health... Their half-measures and voluntary guidelines are no longer enough - we must act swiftly to reverse this public health crisis.
In response to this study, the USDA pointed to the low levels of Salmonella as evidence that pork processors are meeting federal food safety requirements. Okay... but what about the Yersinia results? According to Food Safety News,
The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service does not test for Yersinia in its periodic baseline studies, which give the agency data on the prevalence of pathogens in different meat products. Since Consumer Reports found "very low" Salmonella contamination levels, the agency says, this indicates that the pork industry is adequately controlling pathogens.
Additionally, the USDA says the agency has focused its efforts on Salmonella because it's more resistant to heat than Yersinia, and that "lethality temperatures for Salmonella should effectively eliminate [Yersinia] in pork or other food products."
→ Read more:
• What's In That Pork? | ConsumerReports.org
• Consumer Reports Finds Most Pork Contaminated with Yersinia | Food Safety News
Related: Food Safety 101: Safe Temperatures for Poultry and Meat
(Image: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)