A new Consumer Reports study says that more than 90 percent of the packages of ground turkey they purchased nationwide contained one or more of the five bacteria for which they were testing. Consumer Reports adds that almost all of the organisms in the meat samples proved resistant to one or more of the antibiotics used to fight them.
Scott Hurd, PhD, DVM
We asked Scott Hurd, PhD, DVM, Associate Professor of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, Iowa State University, his thoughts on the study.
Dr. Hurd: “The most important point about this report for consumers to understand is that there is nothing alarming or surprising about these results. The presence of bacteria on raw meat originating from the bird’s environment has long been recognized. This is the reason that every package of raw meat or poultry comes with clear label instructions about the need to appropriately handle and cook the product.
“The fact that some of those bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics is also neither alarming nor surprising. Many bacteria are naturally resistant to certain antibiotics regardless of how they’ve been used previously. This is the reason that sick people need to be seen by a doctor so they get an antibiotic to which the bacteria causing the infection are known to be susceptible.
“Consumer Reports also reported that more resistant bacteria were found in meat that did not have an organic label. It should be noted that the sample size of their study is relatively small. They had 257 samples from 21 different states and 27 different store brands. Since there is a sparse amount of data for each state and store brand, the statistical power of this study is relatively low. Without a large enough sample size, it is difficult to decipher any association between antibiotic usage and the resistance found in ground turkey.
“As pointed out last week by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), those who use scientific data need to be sure they carefully understand the finer points of microbiology and epidemiology. Consumer Reports cites that 69 percent of the ground turkey they sampled harbored Enterococcus, which the FDA says is not considered a foodborne pathogen. They test for it when doing meat samples because its behavior is helpful in understanding how antibiotic resistance occurs.”
“To quote the FDA: ‘… it is inaccurate and alarmist to define bacteria resistant to one, or even a few, antimicrobials as “superbugs” if these same bacteria are still treatable by other commonly used antibiotics. This is especially misleading when speaking of bacteria that do not cause foodborne disease and have natural resistances, such as Enterococcus ...’
“Although conventionally raised turkey showed higher levels of resistance, we have no specific data as to whether or not these farms actually used antibiotics for ‘production purposes.’ Even if they did, FDA has evaluated the public health risk of antibiotics commonly used in poultry feed. The reported risk of streptogramin resistant Enterococcus faecium was seven in one billion to 13 in ten million in the general U.S. population, and 61 in one billion to 1.1 in one million in hospitalized populations.
“The main reason that the risk associated with eating ground turkey is negligible is correctly pointed out by Consumer Reports – appropriate cooking and handling will eradicate resistant and susceptible bacteria.”
Some things to remember when preparing ground turkey:
- If cooking meat within a couple of days, store it at 40° F or below. Otherwise, freeze it.
- Use a meat thermometer to ensure ground turkey is cooked to at least 165° F.
- Wash hands and all surfaces after handling ground turkey.
- Don’t re-use plates/platters that previously held raw meat. Use a clean plate/platter for cooked meat.