Report: Widespread fecal bacteria in ground turkey

Updated:

A lab analysis of ground turkey bought at retail stores across the country found more than half of the packages tested positive for fecal bacteria, according to Consumer Reports.

ATLANTA - A lab analysis of ground turkey bought at retail stores across the country found more than half of the packages tested positive for fecal bacteria, according to Consumer Reports.

The samples came from retailers in 21 states and 27 different brands.

Channel 2's Diana Davis said the tests were looking for salmonella, staphylococcus aureus enterococcus and campylobacter.

Ground turkey is touted as a lower fat and calorie alternative to burgers.

According to the magazine, more than half of the ground turkey samples it tested were contaminated with fecal bacteria and other germs that can cause illness.

"Here was a very large percentage of these ground turkeys that had these bacteria in it. They can be very dangerous," said Atlanta registered dietitian David Orozco.

Conyers resident Sherry Smith switched her family from ground beef to turkey.

After a previous turkey recall in 2011, she told Channel 2 Action News she was convinced contaminated turkey made her and her family sick.

"I don't know what it was but it immediately took me down. I won't be buying it. I don't want to go through that again," Smith said.

Consumer Reports says more than half of turkey samples it tested were contaminated with fecal bacteria. Ninety percent with one or more other types of disease-causing organisms.

The turkey industry disputes the report. It calls it alarmist.

In a statement on its website, the National Turkey Federation said, in part it strongly disputes what it calls misleading findings. It says it makes a number of alarming claims based on an extremely small sample of ground turkey products. Consumer Reports had an opportunity to foster a serious and thoughtful discussion about food safety, the website said. Instead it chose to sensationalize findings and mislead people, according to the website.

The magazine reported high levels of certain pathogens on the samples tested, but it is important to note that the two most prevalent, enterococcus and generic e-coli are not considered sources of foodborne illness"

Turkeys, like other livestock, are often given low doses of antibiotics to keep them healthy.

Consumer Reports cites that as another health concern.

The Food and Drug Administration and other organizations say antibiotic use is spreading the incidence of germs that are resistant to antibiotics, causing possible health problems in humans who get infected.

Orozco says there's often no way for consumers to tell if the meat they buy has been contaminated since many meat and poultry products aren't tested.

"The short answer is probably not. The ability to inspect facilities can be difficult," he said.

Some bacteria are killed at higher temperatures. Experts remind us to use a meat thermometer and cook to a temperature of 165 degrees.

Consumer Reports: What you can do

  • Buy turkey labeled “organic” or “no anti­biotics,” especially if it also has a “USDA Process Verified” label, which means that the USDA has confirmed that the producer is doing what it says. Organic and no-antibiotics brands in our tests were: Coastal Range Organics, Eberly, Giant Eagle Nature’s Basket, Harvestland, Kosher Valley, Nature’s Place, Nature’s Promise, Nature’s Rancher, Plainville Farms, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Wild Harvest.
  • Consider other labels, such as “animal welfare approved” and “certified humane,” which mean that antibiotics were restricted to sick animals.
  • 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.
  • Know that no type of meat—whether turkey, chicken, beef, or pork—is risk free.
  • Buy meat just before checking out, and place it in a plastic bag to prevent leaks.
  • If you will cook meat within a couple of days, store it at 40° F or below. Otherwise, freeze it. (Note that freezing may not kill bacteria.)
  • Cook ground turkey to at least 165° F. Check with a meat thermometer. 
  • Wash hands and all surfaces after handling ground turkey.
  • Don’t return cooked meat to the plate that held it raw.