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Consumer Reports Finds Most Pork Contaminated With Yersinia

In a new study of raw pork chops and ground pork, Consumer Reports found 69 percent of samples were contaminated with Yersinia enterocolitica, according to a report published by the group today.

A lesser-known foodborne pathogen, Yersinia enterocolitica can cause fever, abdominal pain and diarrhea, lasting one to three weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is approximately one confirmed infection per 100,000 people reported each year, but since these cases are severely under-reported, CDC estimates there are actually around 100,000 infections in the United States annually.

Consumer Reports tested 198 samples and found that while the vast majority were positive for Yersinia, only 3 to 7 percent were positive for the more common foodborne pathogens Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus or Listeria monocytogenes.

According to the report, several of the isolates found were resistant to one or more antibiotics: 6 of the 8 Salmonella samples, 13 of the 14 Staphylococcus samples and 121 of the 132 Yersinia samples. The study also found MRSA on one sample.

The group points to the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture as a key contributor to the resistance problem.

The report cites Robert Lawrence, a doctor who serves as director of the Center for a Liveable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: “When you give low-dose antibiotics for growth promotion or for prophylaxis of infection, you end up killing off the susceptible bacteria, whether they’re E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter or other bacteria. And you continue to select for those bacteria that, through spontaneous mutations or transfer of genes from other resistant bacteria, allow them to be resistant to antibiotics.”

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a vocal critic of agriculture’s use of antibiotics, reacted to the study on Tuesday calling the results “simply terrifying.”

“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,” said the congresswoman in a statement. “Their half-measures and voluntary guidelines are no longer enough – we must act swiftly to reverse this public health crisis.”

USDA affirms safety of pork products

The USDA responded to questions about the study by pointing out that the low levels of Salmonella and other common pathogens found by Consumer Reports show that pork processors are meeting federal food safety requirements.

“The findings reported in the article affirm that companies are meeting the established guidelines for protecting the public’s health,” said a USDA spokesperson, on background. “USDA will remain vigilant against emerging and evolving threats to the safety of America’s supply of meat, poultry and processed egg products, and we will continue to work with the industry to ensure companies are following food safety procedures in addition to looking for new ways to strengthen the protection of public health.”

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.

FSIS also points out that last year 100 percent of pork processing establishments tested by the agency met the agency’s 2011 performance standards for Salmonella.

“FSIS selected Salmonella as the target organism for its pathogen reduction performance standards due, in part, to its high resistance to lethality treatments such as cooking. Eliminating Salmonella in a ready-to-eat pork product results in a product that also is safe from other pathogens, such as Yersinia.”

“Raw pork products are expected to be cooked sufficiently to destroy any pathogens of public health concern, including Salmonella and Yersinia,” added the agency.

There are a number of precautions consumers can take to avoid exposure to Yersinia. CDC recommends avoiding raw or undercooked pork, consuming only pasteurized dairy products, and washing hands when preparing food, after contact with animals and after handling raw meat.

Raw chitterlings, or pig intestines, are seen as a particular risk. CDC recommends cleaning hands and fingernails thoroughly with soap and water before touching infants or their toys, bottles or pacifiers after handling chitterlings.

Study finds traces of veterinary drug

The study also tested 240 additional samples of pork and found that 20 percent contained traces of ractopamine, a controversial beta-agonist drug widely used in pork production to boost feed efficiency and leanness.

Each sample that tested positive had concentrations at less than 5 parts per billion (ppb), which is below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s safety standard for pork muscle meat (50 ppb) and the recently adopted Codex Alimentarius Commission standard (10 ppb).

The drug, marketed to pork producers as Paylean, has been at the heart of recent trade controversies with the European Union, Taiwan and China, which each ban the drug and ask that U.S. meat imports are from pigs not fed ractopamine.

Citing incomplete safety data, Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, has pressed for a ban on the drug.

A report published by nbcnews.com last year found that ractopamine had sparked more adverse drug experience reports for pigs than any other drug. According to FDA documents, the adverse reports complained that pigs suffered hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death. FDA says such data do not establish that the drug caused the health problems, but the agency asked the drugmaker to add a warning label to the product in 2002.

PM Update: In response to questions about why the agency did not test for Yersinia in its 2011 baseline assessment after planning to do so, a USDA spokesperson told Food Safety News: “FSIS did consider testing for Yersinia in the more recent Market Hog Microbiological Baseline Survey, but concluded that available testing methods were not reliable for detecting pathogenic serotypes and genotypes of [Yersinia]. Instead, the baseline study focused resources on determining Salmonella prevalence and levels on market hog carcasses because it is widely accepted that Salmonella is more resistant to heat compared to [Yersinia] and lethality temperatures for Salmonella should effectively eliminate [Yersinia] in pork or other food products.”

This story has been updated.

© Food Safety News
  • doc_raymond

    Helena, I know you took the Yersinia numbers right from the Consumer Reports story, but you and the readers need to know how they arrived at 100,000 infections. The CDC states in their own Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal, January, 2011, that in 2009 there were 950 “laboratory-confirmed” cases of illness from Yersinia enterocolitica, but source is not provided as to food or not. They then multiplied that number times 122.8 to get near the 100,000 number. First of all, 950 cases is not worth a story by CR, and secondly, if the illness is so mild that 122 persons do not seek help for every one that does and is diagnosed, lets move on to something more significant  in the world of foodborne illnesses.

    • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

      Just because an illness goes unreported does not mean that the person who is suffering does not seek help. An illness can be serious enough for the person to go to the hospital, but that doesn’t mean that the hospital will culture Yersinia and/or make a report that ends up in the CDC database.

      • doc_raymond

        I didn’t know you worked in the health care field, Michael. I stick to the fact that only 950 lab confirmed cases, and one death. Really, shouldn’t we be trying to reduce Salmonella and E coli and let the little players alone? Not if you want a sensational article that will frighten people away from eating pork, I guess. And by the way, the number of lab confirmed cases in 1999 was 2,536. We should praise the industry for reducing the number by 60%, not paint them with a black eye.

        • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

          I don’t think any deadly pathogens are “little players.” Perhaps you can tell an elderly person with a weakened immune system that three weeks of diarrhea is no big deal. Or tell the family of the person who died that it wasn’t a big enough issue for anyone to care about.. Is that the narrative you would prefer?

        • farmber

          Some days it must be hard putting on a positive spin for the Big Meat Industry — only 950 Confirmed cases and one measly death — nothing to be concerned about… Don’t worry — Be Happy!

          • doc_raymond

            The CDC estimates that there were 48 million foodborne illnesses in 2009. The CDC documented 950 illnesses from Yersinia. The Consumer Reports used a flawed test to say 69% of pork samples are contaminated with Yersinia. don’t these numbers raise questions as to why they picked this particular pathogen to highlight? If you really want to come out against eating meat in an honest way, instead of hiding behind junk science, why not point out that 2,000 Americans die every year from choking, and most of the time the culprit is beef steak. 

        • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VF2UUBU2BOUHXNVJIAETYBBBCQ Joe

          Wonder who the poop is in the punch bowl is.. Maybe a Vegan or an Animal Rights person..    Always cook your pork well, has been the rule during my lifetime, I expect we have problems because people do not handle their food properly or they have poor sanitation skills,  Wash your Hands, Cook meat and fish well to eliminate food problems.  Clean and Sanatize your kitchens, your  tools and work surfaces and do not cross contiminate food in preparation.  

          Enjoy you Beef. Pork, Lamb, Ham and Fish and Poultry.  These are gifts from God to help us be strong and feed our bodies needs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/howard.hail Howard Hail

    Reports like this against meat are not about food safety at all. They are about turning people away from eating meat. The goal of animal rights is to stop all use of animals as food for human beings. These people are lying to the public when they tell you that you can exist on plant material alone.  There is no science behind the vegan diet claims of health, just as many vegans die of heart disease and cancer. There are no primal vegan societies with 100 year old members. Moderate eating of meat and vegetables will ensure health. The fact is that the brain of human beings requires meat. Meat is the only source of Active VB12 and without it your brain becomes irrational and your nervous system is damaged. Inactive VB12 comes from a few plants and is inactive in the human body. Meat is the main reason that our brains have developed this far. Vegans who push misinformation and strict no meat diets are a danger to our society and to all human beings. In fact 16 infants of strict vegan parents have died from malnutrition because their vegan parents could no longer think rationally and refused to fee their own children milk or any meat products. For consumer reports to put out this misinformation to scare people away from eating meat is dangerous to society. Consumer reports should be ashamed, I will no longer trust them because of my medical background what they present as dangerous is a lie. We shouldn’t be turning our back on solid, scientific evidence that has been produced over the past 20 or 30 years that shows this compound is safe. It is only the animal rights groups that want to ban this product because they really want to ban the eating of meat or to make meat so expensive that most human beings will not be able to afford to eat any meat. Their stated goal is to end all farming of meat animals.
    For Consumer reports to let such a cult deny science and present something as dangerous when it is definitely not, is immoral. ”The World Health Organization and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization joint expert commission on food additives has on three separate occasions (2004, 2006 and 2010) concluded that ractopamine is safe. ”The global food safety agencies, which would include the Codex Alimentarius Commission, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Canadian Human Safety Division, Veterinary Drugs Directorate, Health Canada, have all come forward and stated ractopamine is absolutely safe.” You can find antibiotic-resistant bacteria all over your own body. They are everywhere, including in your nose where 1 out of 50 Americans harbor Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA), a bug they just had to mention in the report. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not test pork for Yersinia because the testing methodologies are inaccurate and inadequate. It turns out that there are way too many false positives and Consumers Union knew that and tested anyway for a headline. That is really lying to the public. As for Ractopamine it is a boon to all human beings as it causes swine to reach a leaner market weight quicker. This reduces their use of the Earth’s resources such as land, water and feed. More food for humans with less use of water and feed.
    Its been in use since being approved by the FDA in 1999 and not one single case has appeared in all that time of any ill effects on humans from consuming pork. It is used in 27 other countries as approved for swine. Its safety for humans is beyond reproach. The only countries it not used in are those in which animal rights cults badgered the government into a ban. These are people who want to end all farming of meat animals for our food. HSUS, PeTA, THLN, ADLF and other animal rights cults state they intend to end all use of animals for meat, companionship, entertainment, and medical research. They are doing this by writing articles like this one that are not about safety, but about creating a climate of fear around eating any type of meat. BEWARE of animal rights because they fully intend to take away your right to eat meat, own a pet, or have recent medical research available. 
      

    • Faith Nicholas

      Reports like this are about food safety, just probably not the definition of food safety you’re used to thinking of. Yes, the contamination of pork raises questions concerning the safety of consumers in eating this contaminated pork. However, drawing attention to the presence of contaminated pork, no matter the number of reported/unreported cases, questions the long-term sustainability (and therefore, long-term food security) of antibiotic use in livestock; how long can we continue to use antibiotics to produce meat AND continue to provide inadequate documentation of antibiotic use without the outbreak of a serious antibiotic-resistant strain?

      Because you acknowledged it as well – the USDA’s “testing methodologies are inaccurate and inadequate”. If antibiotic use is to continue in a prudent manner, testing needs to improve. Additionally, meat producers should be required to provide documentation of antibiotic use. One of the reasons there is so much controversy surrounding the link between antibiotic resistance and agricultural antibiotic use is due to the lack of data from meat producers. The FDA currently has voluntary guidelines about better documentation, but this needs to be mandatory. It is immoderate to say no one should eat meat due to these antibiotic-resistant outbreaks, but it is also immoderate to say that we should just ignore these problematic outbreaks and turn to “bigger problems”. I do not believe the Consumer Reports study intended to frighten consumers away from meat consumption, but rather to provide consumers with the necessary information: what is in our food and why/how did it get there. 

      (Also, the link posted by Sandi provides absolutely no evidence or reasoning as to why the Consumer Reports article is “off base”. Instead, it is merely a handful of National Pork Board officials stating their product is safe. This may very well be true, but where are their facts?)