Our analysis of pork-chop and ground-pork samples from around the U.S. found that yersinia enterocolitica, a bacterium that can cause fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, was widespread.
Some samples harbored other potentially harmful bacteria, including salmonella. And there are more reasons to be concerned about “the other white meat.”
Some of the bacteria we found in 198 samples proved to be resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat people. The frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming may be accelerating the growth of drug-resistant “superbugs” that threaten human health.
About one-fifth of the 240 pork products we analyzed in a separate test harbored low levels of the drug ractopamine, which the U.S. approved in 1999 to promote growth and leanness in pigs. It’s commonly used in pigs raised for food in the U.S. but is banned in the European Union, China, and Taiwan. Our food-safety experts say that no drugs should be used routinely in healthy animals to promote growth.
Here are details from our tests:
Yersinia enterocolitica was in 69 percent of the tested pork samples. It infects about 100,000 Americans a year, especially children. We found salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, more common causes of foodborne illness, in 3 to 7 percent of samples. And 11 percent harbored enterococcus, which can indicate fecal contamination and can cause problems such as urinary-tract infections.
Some of the bacteria we found were resistant to multiple drugs or classes of drugs. That’s worrisome, because if those bugs make you sick, your doctor may need to prescribe more powerful (and expensive) antibiotics.
Ground pork was more likely than pork chops to harbor pathogens. That’s to be expected, since grinding meat provides another opportunity for contamination.
Some antibiotic claims you’ll see on packaging are misleading. And a “no hormones added” claim might be true but is meaningless, because hormones aren’t allowed in pork production.
During slaughter and processing, meat can become contaminated with bacteria from the animal’s skin or gut and from workers, equipment, or the environment. Contamination is especially likely to occur if processing lines run too fast or if sanitary practices aren’t followed. Once bacteria are on meat, improper storage can encourage them to multiply.