Study Finds High Levels of Pork Contamination



A new Consumer Reports study has found high percentages of pork contaminated with foodborne bacteria, specifically antibiotic resistant bacteria. They tested 198 pork samples, both ground and whole, from six states. Of the samples, 70 percent were contaminated with Yersinia Enterocolitica, a bacteria which causes fever, stomach pain, and diarrhea. According to the CDC, 100,000 cases are reported of the illness each year.

Antibiotic Resistance in Pork

More well known foodborne illnesses like Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Listeria monocytogenes were less common, found in 3 to 7 percent of samples. Drug resistance was of particular concern, according to Food Safety News, “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.”

Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern among scientists with regards to public health. The use of excessive antibiotics on livestock have lead to drug resistant illnesses in pigs that are then passed on to humans. Subtherapeutic use of antibiotics means using them for any use other than sickness, including fattening livestock up rapidly or to quell any sickness caused by unhealthy living standards that could cause them to get sick in the future. Subtherapeutic use of antibiotics is under fire because scientists are finding that it causes the perfect breeding ground for drug resistant bacteria. According to Scientific American, “The germs that survive are typically those that happen to bear genetic mutations for resisting the antibiotic. They then reproduce and exchange genes with other microbial resisters…. You could not design a better system for guaranteeing the spread of antibiotic resistance."

The USDA Responds

The USDA has responded by quelling the fears of the public. “The findings reported in the article affirm that companies are meeting the established guidelines for protecting the public’s health,” said a USDA spokesperson, reported on Food Safety News. “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.”

But even as the study is being questioned by the pork industry and the USDA says this public health issue is under control, make sure that you cook whole pork to 145 degrees and ground pork to 160 degrees. Buy organic to avoid the antibiotics and hormones that can be used in excess.


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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.









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