Chicken and ground beef are the riskiest meats, according to a new ranking released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC on Tuesday. CSPI’s study, “Risky Meat: A Field Guide to Meat & Poultry Safety,” ranked 12 categories of meat and poultry based on their outbreak reports and the likelihood of hospitalizations associated with the pathogens most commonly reported in those foods over the past 12 years, from 1998 to 2010. In all, CSPI says they looked at 1,700 outbreaks and 33,000 illnesses and published the report to “inform stakeholders throughout the food chain of steps to minimize risks inherent in these foods.” The group, which is vocal in advocating for tougher food safety standards, says they released the report to help consumers know which foods carry the greatest risks and to “help them take precautionary steps, such as safer handling and more thorough cooking.” CSPI also wants the industry to take note of its report when companies are designing their food safety plans. CSPI also hopes retail establishments will take note and take extra care to ensure the riskiest products are properly handled. For its report, CSPI divided 12 categories of meat products into different risk categories by looking at total illnesses, but also by factoring in the severity of illnesses, and creating a pyramid image, based on this ranking. “While each case is included in the analysis, the rankings go one step further,” according to the report. “CSPI’s rankings are based on an analysis of severity, a metric derived by determining the number of illnesses caused by each pathogen for each food group, and then applying the hospitalization rate due to that pathogen.” Chicken and ground beef were awarded the “highest risk” category because in 12 years, according to the report, chicken has been linked to 452 outbreaks and 6,896 illnesses, and ground beef has been linked to 336 outbreaks and 3,801 illnesses. Other beef products, steak and turkey are categorized as “high risk.” Babecue, deli meat, pork and roast beef all fall into the “medium risk” category and chicken nuggets, ham and sausage enjoy a “low risk” ranking. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, charged with meat and poultry safety, responded to the report by emphasizing the initiatives underway aimed at tackling such pathogens. “We applaud CSPI’s ongoing efforts to educate consumers about food safety,” said Dr. Elisabeth Hagen, USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety. “While we have made progress in making food safer—including cutting E. coli O157-related illnesses in half, we still have work to do. As Salmonella rates continue to stagnate, we look forward to CSPI’s support, and the support of other groups committed to food safety, of our efforts to reduce this dangerous foodborne pathogen, including modernization of the poultry inspection system.” FSIS points out that that the agency wants to “modernize” poultry slaughter inspection, which the agency believes could prevent 5,000 illnesses from Salmonella and Campylobacter each year. For example, the agency also estimates that 5,000 Campylobacter illnesses and 20,000 Salmonella illnesses will be prevented under new, tougher pathogen standards for poultry plants and last summer enacted a zero tolerance policy for non-O157:H7 disease-causing E. coli (STECs). The National Chicken Council also responded to the report. “Rigorous food safety standards are applied to all chicken produced in the United States, and all chicken products must meet or exceed these safety standards set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in order to reach consumers,” said Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the National Chicken Council. “The bottom line for consumers is that all chicken is safe to eat when properly handled and cooked.” The full CSPI report is available here. Image courtesy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.