Well, for Ground Beef and Pork Chops, not so much, but for Chicken Breasts and Ground Turkey, not so good.  And, there is E. coli too, but they do not say what kind.

The 2010 NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System) Report (FULL REPORT PDF) fell into my inbox today. According to the Report, for 2010, 5,280 retail meat samples were collected from 10 CDC FoodNet sites, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Each site collected samples from a randomized list of area grocery stores.

For 2010, some 35 Salmonella Serotypes were distributed among 400 Salmonella positive samples. Of the 400 Salmonella positive samples, 171 (42%) were in found in Chicken Breasts, 202 (50.5%) were found in Ground Turkey, 7 (1.8%) were found in Ground Beef and 20 (5%) were found in Pork Chops. Of note, 43.3% of Chicken Breasts and 33.7% of Ground Turkey were resistant to more than 3 antibiotics.

Screen Shot 2012-03-01 at 12.51.07 PM.png

For 2010, 3 types of Campylobacter were distributed among the 518 Campylobacter positive samples. Of the 518 positive samples, 505 (97.5%) were found in Chicken Breasts and 13 (2.5%) were found in Ground Turkey. Because of the low incidence of Campylobacter in Ground Beef and Pork Chops, no tests were performed.

Screen Shot 2012-03-01 at 12.51.33 PM.png

NARMS also tested for Escherichia coli (could include Shiga-toxin producing strains but not necessarily) by meat type.  Of the 460 positives, Chicken Breasts – 460 (77.6%), Ground Turkey – 369 (80.2%), Ground Beef – 269 (58.5%) and Pork Chops – 183 (39.8%).

Screen Shot 2012-03-01 at 3.28.11 PM.png

So, what’s for dinner?

Last year we decided to fund yet another bacterial test on retail meat – this time chicken. All the chicken in the 100 chicken IEH Labs survey, which included whole fryers and packages of chicken parts, was collected and tested from March 1 to April 4 from Seattle area grocery stores. The chicken was purchased from Fred Meyer, Safeway, QFC, Whole Foods, Costco, Sam’s Club, Albertsons, Thriftway, PCC Natural Markets and Ken’s Market stores.

IEH Labs found S. aurea, or staph, in 42 percent of the samples overall and Campylobacter in 65 percent. The supermarket chicken was contaminated with other pathogens as well: 19 percent of the samples tested positive for Salmonella, one tested positive for Listeria, and 10 percent showed the presence of the methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). In an unusual finding, one of the chicken samples tested positive for E. coli 026, Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) bacteria more likely to be a contaminant of beef than poultry. Organic Chicken proved to be slightly less contaminated than nonorganic with 7 of the 13 (54%) testing positive for harmful bacteria.

Some comparisons to other studies:

Campylobacter – Our study: 65%. Miller WG, Mandrell RE. 2005. Prevalence of Campylobacter in the food and water supply: incidence, outbreaks, isolation and detection, p. 101-163. In J. Ketley and ME Konkel (ed), Campylobacter: Molecular and Cellular Biology. Horizon Bioscience, Norfolk, United Kingdom. 33-53% average; (3-98% range)

Staphylococcus aureus (“Staph” or S. aureus) and MRSA (Methicillan resistant Staph Aureus) – Our finding of 42% contamination with Staph is similar to recent findings (41% in chicken) by Price et. al published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Price and colleagues found that (26% of the chicken samples with Staph) were resistant to at least 3 classes of antibiotics. In our study, 10 (24%) of the samples with S. aureus were Methicillan resistant. The importance of findings of S. aureus and MRSA in raw poultry needs to be evaluated. Extracellular toxin production by large cell numbers of S. aureus causes foodborne illness; ingestion of the bacteria themselves does not. MRSA typically causes nosocomial infection, not foodborne illness. Since there is no recognized increase in staphylococcal enterotoxin production by MRSA, while this pathogen is of great clinical significance its antibiotic resistance has no influence on staphylococcal food poisoning. While resistance may enable the pathogen to persist in the food processing environment, most cases of foodbonre illness related to S. aureus are related to post-processing contamination by human contact, making the industrial relevance of MRSA among S. aureus strains questionable.

Salmonella – Our study 19%. In 1996 the USDA FSIS published the “Final Rule on Pathogen Reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) Systems in an effort to reduce the prevalence of salmonella in meat. This rule requires that meat and poultry industries have a HACCP plan. Prior to passage of the Final Rule, the contamination rate in broiler chickens was 24%. After the Final Rule, the rate dropped to 11%. The rate has been increasing though and in 2005 the rate was 16%. (REF: D’oust JY, Maurer J. 2007. Salmonella species. p.187-236. In MP Doyle and LR Beuchat (ed), Food Microbiology Fundamentals and Frontiers, 3rd ed., ASM Press, Washington, DC.)

See our Full Survey in PDF and as Spreadsheet in PDF.

  • Carl Custer

    Hey whaddya expect?
    About 20years ago, I proposed that ARS review using a fecal indicator such as coprostanol on beef carcasses. That would be quicker and more sensitive than the bacterial indicator analysis of that time. One of the scientists from EERC quipped that if a fecal indicator was implemented, it would kill the poultry business. We all knew how the mechanical defeatherers pound feces into the empty follicles.
    Several years later Keene (ARS Clay Center) developed a chemical test for beef carcasses based on a metabolite of grass. Chickens were saved!!

  • I never would have guessed that raw Chicken Breasts would carry such an incidence of Salmonella, or that 43% of these breasts would be resistant to more than 3 antibiotics.
    At home, I treat ground beef with the ultimate of respect. Looks like Chicken Breasts require even more of my respect. For the last two years, my wife & I have purchased boneless chicken breasts for under $2 retail, a comparative steal when compared to what we prefer, which is beef. For less than $2, looks like we’ve been purchasing more than just chicken.
    These statistics point out the unconvenient truth that cross-contamination is a veritable public health time bomb, ripe for detonation. Whether the chicken breasts are being handled and cooked in a restaurant, a home, or at a hospital cafeteria or nursing home, the product has to be considered high risk, even though it emanated from a poultry plant which employs a HACCP Plan which has been theoretically validated to be effective in controlling salmonella to a less-than-detectable level.
    FSIS performs Salmonella tests. The % of Salmonella which is allowable by the agency, with no enforcement actions, is as follows:
    Ground Beef = 7.5%
    Broilers = 20.0%
    Ground Chicken = 44.6%
    Ground Turkey = 49.9%
    Ironically, although Salmonellosis kills 10 times more Americans that E.coli (CDC stat’s), FSIS doesn’t consider Salmonella an adulterant, although E.coli is an adulterant. The real issue here is NOT classification details (“Adulterant” vs “Contaminant”). The real issue here is bacterial impact on public health and food safety. FSIS is blithely unconcerned when the incidence of Salmonella in Broilers is “ONLY” 19%, and passively allows the 19% to be shipped into commerce labeled USDA Inspected and PASSED. Likewise for E.coli, which the agency allows to be shipped into commerce when found on the perimeter of intact cuts.
    Both FDA and FSIS have garnered recent headlines, as they laudably promote the need for Prevention. Well, what do the agencies consider Prevention to be? Are FSIS & FDA focusing on Prevention in the home kitchen and in hospital cafeterias? Or, do the agencies think that Prevention is primarily accomplished at the abattoir source, that is, preventing pathogens from entering the food chain in the first place? I’ve yet to see FDA or FSIS define WHERE the primary focal point of Prevention is to be found.
    Realizing the pathogen incidence statistics quoted in this article, is it true that America has the safest food in the world? If so, I will avoid future international travel.
    John Munsell

  • I have a question for Carl Custer. Since mechanical defeatherers are here to stay, and realizing they pound feces into the empty follicles, what are some practical procedures the poultry industry should consider to address this scenario? Or, are there no interventions which can eliminate fecal bacteria such as Salmonella? If so, are we at the point where we simply must admit that all raw poultry is high risk, and when consumers handle and eat the product, they do so at their own risk? I am totally serious here. Just like the risk involved with driving a car, are we taking our safety into our own hands?
    I wonder out loud if we can ethically claim that poultry plants must produce consistently safe raw poultry?
    John Munsell

  • Tamara

    I had always assumed that cooking meats to recommended temperatures would make them safe, but then I learned about heat-resistant toxins. So even the most careful consumer cannot ensure their own safety.