SAN ANTONIO – From burgers to meatballs, ground meats are often on the menu. But, how safe is the meat you eat and serve your family?
A Consumer Reports investigation found dangerous and potentially deadly bacteria in meat samples from supermarkets around the country.
Consumer Reports tested 351 samples of ground beef, pork, chicken and turkey and found salmonella in samples of each meat.
“Almost a third of the ground chicken sampled contained salmonella,” said Dr. James Rogers, director of Food Safety Research for Consumer Reports.
Finding a dangerous strain of E. coli, O157:H7, in a sample of ground beef prompted them to alert the Department of Agriculture. That triggered a recent recall of more than 28,000 pounds of ground beef from major grocery chains in seven western states and did not include Texas.
The consumer watchdog organization said their findings highlight serious flaws — not only in meat production and processing but also in government oversight.
“This strain of E. coli should not have been in the meat, period. There is a zero-tolerance policy for this strain of bacteria, and for good reason: It can kill, and it’s hard to treat,” Rogers said.
So why is ground meat potentially more dangerous than other types of meat? The answer is in the processing and production.
“When you buy a steak, that cut is from one cow. But a package of ground beef is derived from the meat of multiple cows mixed together. That means one contaminated lot of meat can potentially contaminate many pounds of ground meat,” Rogers said.
Consumer Reports shared its ground chicken test results with producers who had at least one sample test positive.
Perdue said only 5.5% of samples it recently spot-checked were positive for salmonella, far lower than the 36% of Perdue samples with the bacteria in CR’s tests.
Walmart said it began a “salmonella interventions program” in 2014. Whole Foods said it has a quality assurance team that assesses salmonella reports from the USDA. Wholesome Pantry told CR the company holds “our suppliers to strict industry standards.”
What can consumers do? Cooking meats, especially ground meats, to a proper temperature is key. Using a meat thermometer can assure when the meat is done: 165 degrees for ground poultry and 160 degrees for ground beef and pork.
When you cook with ground meat, wash your hands in hot, soapy water before you start prepping, then after every time you touch raw meat and again when you’re finished. Using a dedicated cutting board just for ground meat and reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
After you’re done eating, any leftovers should be refrigerated promptly. Cooked food shouldn’t be left out longer than two hours, or one hour if you’re outside and it’s 90° F or hotter.