Ground turkey is in the news again, and it’s not pretty. Consumer Reports did some independent research and then sensationalized the results, as some media outlets tend to do. But I believe we should make food choices based on facts, not fear, and ground turkey is no exception.
The fear: Ground turkey is contaminated with bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
The facts: In the Consumer Reports testing, NONE of the turkey sampled contained Campylobacter, and only 5% of the samples contained Salmonella. Government testing has found very similar results.
The fear: E. Coli and Enterococcus on ground turkey will make us sick.
The facts: While E. Coli can cause illness, it is found in many places in our environment, including computer keyboards! And Enterococcus, which CR focused on in their article, does NOT cause foodborne illness.
The fear: There is not enough testing for bacteria on turkey. CR called for the USDA to declare four serotypes of Salmonella adulterants in ground turkey.
The facts: Tens of thousands of turkey samples are tested annually by the FDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services. Nearly 90 percent of the ground turkey samples, and 97 percent of the whole turkey samples are Salmonella-free. In addition, there is no reliable, rapid tests for Salmonella serotypes. Most reliable tests still take more than a week. That kind of delay would make ground turkey a more expensive product to produce, denying many Americans— especially budget conscious consumers— a nutritious, safe protein. The turkey industry will continue to invest in new testing methodologies, but it will likely be years before one reliable enough for regulatory purposes is developed.
The fear: Bacteria on turkey are resistant to antibiotics, which can cause a risk to human health.
The facts: All bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics. Scott Hurd, PhD, DVM, Associate Professor of Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine, Iowa State University, said, “The fact that some of those bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics is also neither alarming nor surprising. Many bacteria are naturally resistant to certain antibiotics regardless of how they’ve been used previously. This is the reason that sick people need to be seen by a doctor so they get an antibiotic to which the bacteria are known to be susceptible.”
The fear: Overuse of antibiotics on farms can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans. CR said the report found resistance to “ampicillin, ceftriaxone, ciprofloxacin, tetracycline and others “often used to treat illnesses” associated with foodborne illness.
o Penicillin-class drugs (including ampicillin) comprise only 7% of all antibiotic use in food-producing animals. (Iowa State University study/FDA records)
o Cephalosporin-class drugs (including ceftriaxone) comprise less than 1% of all antibiotic use in food-producing animals. (Iowa State study/FDA records)
o Ciprofloxacin (specifically its animal version, enrofloxacin) has been banned for use in poultry for almost eight years, so on-farm use cannot be the source of resistance in poultry – FDA records.
o Tetracycline, which is widely used in food-animal production, no longer is a significant drug in human medicine, comprising only four percent of the antibiotics prescribed by physicians. (Iowa State study/FDA records)
The fear: Farmers misuse antibiotics.
The facts: According to the FDA, antibiotics have been use safely in animal agriculture for half a century to treat and control disease, and improve overall health. Turkey farmers use antibiotics judiciously and in full compliance with federal law.
Antibiotic use on livestock farms is not an imminent public health threat, according to the FDA, National Research Council and World Health Organizations. There is no scientific consensus that antibiotic use in animals is connected to antibiotic resistance in human medicine.
The fear: Eating ground turkey will make me sick.
The facts: ALL meat, including ground turkey, should be thoroughly cooked to avoid foodborne illness. Ground turkey should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, using a meat thermometer. Wash your hands, avoid cross contamination, cook thoroughly and refrigerate promptly to avoid illness.
Now that you’ve read both sides of the story, which will you choose?