In its first-ever lab analysis of ground turkey products, Consumer Reports found potential disease-causing organisms in most of the samples it tested, more than half of which proved resistant to more than three antibiotic drug classes.
Consumer Reports tested 257 samples purchased from stores nationwide. Its findings strongly suggest that there is a direct relationship between the routine use of antibiotics in animal production and increased antibiotic resistance in bacteria on ground turkey -- in other words, that antibiotics fed to turkeys are creating resistance to related antibiotics used in human medicine.
Consumer Reports purchased samples of raw ground turkey meat and patties, including products from major retailers and store brands, and tested them for the presence of five bacteria: enterococcus, E. coli, staphylococcus aureus, salmonella and campylobacter. It found:
* Overall, 90 percent of the samples had one or more of the five bacteria for which they were tested.
* Bacteria on ground turkey products labeled "no antibiotics," "organic" or "raised without antibiotics" were resistant to fewer antibiotics overall than bacteria found on conventional products.
* Bacteria related to fecal contamination were found on the majority of samples. Sixty-nine percent of ground turkey samples harbored enterococcus, and 60 percent E. coli.
* Three ground turkey samples were contaminated with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
* Salmonella, which is one of the top causes of foodborne illness, was found in 12 of the samples tested (5 percent) and two-thirds of them were multidrug resistant; government studies typically find higher rates of salmonella, at around 12 percent. Processing plants are permitted by the government to have product contamination rates as high as 49.9 percent.
Although the bacteria Consumer Reports found are killed by thorough cooking, some can produce toxins that may not be destroyed by heat, so take precautions.
* Buy turkey labeled "organic" or "no antibiotics," especially if it also has a "USDA Process Verified" label, which means that the agency has confirmed that the producer is doing what it says. Consider other labels, such as "animal welfare approved" and "certified humane," which mean that antibiotics were restricted to sick animals only.
* Be aware that "natural" meat is simply minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients or added color. It can come from an animal that ate antibiotics daily.
* Buy meat just before checking out, and place it in a plastic bag to prevent leaks.
* If cooking meat within a few days, store it at 40 degrees or below. Otherwise, freeze it. (Note that freezing may not kill bacteria.)
* When cooking ground turkey, use a meat thermometer to ensure it reaches the proper internal temperature of at least 165 degrees to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
* Wash hands and all surfaces after handling ground turkey.
* Don't return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw.
* Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers within two hours of cooking.