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Pork Under Scrutiny

Researchers tested 148 samples of meat from pork chops and 50 from ground pork for the presence of bacteria. The pork samples came from many major store brands. Some carried misleading and unapproved claims such as “no antibiotic growth promotants” and “no antibiotic residues.”

Ground Pork More Contaminated Than Pork Chops

Overall, ground pork was more likely than pork chops to harbor bugs. Similar findings could be expected in sources of raw pork, such as pork loin and pork cheeks, but not cured pork products such as bacon or ham, Halloran says.

Philip M. Tierno Jr., PhD, says the new findings are worrisome. He is director of clinical microbiology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.

“When we test an individual with gastrointestinal symptoms, we look for salmonella and staphylococcus aureus and other pathogens, but we also routinely look for yersinia,” he says. The fact that the USDA doesn’t look for this bacteria in pork is of concern.

Antibiotic use in animals is one of the key drivers of antibiotic resistance, Tierno says. “In the U.S., we use antibiotics to prevent, not treat, infections in animals because of how the animals are raised in crowded conditions.”

Safe Pork Guidelines

What can people who eat pork do?

Lots, experts say.

  • Use separate cutting boards for meat and produce. "Throw the cutting board or knife in the sink after you use it,” Halloran says.
  • Choose antibiotic-free pork products, including those labeled “certified organic.” Also look for animal welfare labels such as Animal Welfare Approved or Certified Humane, which prohibit the use of ractopamine and allow antibiotics only for disease treatment, not prevention.
  • Disinfect all objects that come into contact with pork. "A little bleach in water is the cheapest and most effective killer of these germs,” Tierno says. “Combine a whiskey glass of bleach and half a quart of water to disinfect utensils and countertops."
  • Wash hands thoroughly after preparing raw meat.
  • Cook pork thoroughly. Use a meat thermometer when cooking pork to ensure it reaches at least 145 F for whole pork and 160 F for ground pork, Halloran says.

Donald W. Schaffner, PhD, says everyone can eat pork products safely as long as they take the proper precautions. He is a professor of food sciences at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. “If you like it, you should keep eating it, just cook it thoroughly,” he says. “Not everyone can afford organic meats.”

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