Pork: What's in Your Dinner?

Bacteria and veterinary drugs found in pork

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) We all remember the tagline to the long-running ad campaign for pork. “Pork. It's What's For Dinner.” But what exactly is in your pork?

Consumer Reports, the consumer product testing magazine, found some disturbing ingredients in the pork chop and ground pork samples it tested. An antibiotic-resistant bacteria and traces of a veterinary drug showed up as widespread contaminants.

In other words, the bacteria was already resistant to antibiotics because farmers give antibiotics to the pigs.

"Use a meat thermometer when cooking pork."

Consumer Reports' test turned up Yersinia enterocolitica in 69 percent of 198 pork chop and ground pork samples. Yersinia is a food-borne bacteria that is not as well known as E.coli and salmonella, but has similar symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are 100,000 Yersinia infections each year. It causes fever, stomach pain and diarrhea, and lasts between one and three weeks.

What's more, some of the Yersinia bacteria found in the sample was resistant to human antibiotics. “The frequent use of low-dose antibiotics in pork farming may be accelerating the growth of drug-resistant 'superbugs' that threaten human health,” the Consumer Report authors wrote.

“That’s worrisome, because if those bugs make you sick, your doctor may need to prescribe more powerful (and expensive) antibiotics,” explain the Consumer Reports authors.

They found that ground pork was more likely than pork chops to contain pathogens. It's not surprising, because the industrial meat grinding process is another means of contamination.

In a test separate from the one that discovered Yersinia, Consumer Reports found low levels of the veterinary drug ractopamine. It's a drug that's intended to produce bigger, leaner pigs.

It's also banned in the EU, China and Taiwan. That's because many public health experts don't believe that drugs should be used in otherwise healthy animals to promote growth.

However, the drug is given to as many as 60 to 80 percent of pigs in the US. There's an active controversy around whether it is truly safe for pigs and humans.

It turns out that Consumers Union, which is the advocacy and policy side of Consumer Reports, is working to ban the drug from being used in pork production. According to Food Safety News, the USDA responded to the study by affirming that it still considers pork production to be safe.

There were very low levels of the more common food-borne bacteria found. Only three to seven percent of samples tested positive for salmonella, listeria and staphyloccocus.

If you're concerned about the safety of your pork, Consumer Reports suggests many things you can do to minimize your risk of illness.

  • Check your meat with a meat thermometer to make sure it's reached a temperature at which potentially harmful bacteria will be killed off. For whole pork, it's 145 degrees Fahrenheit and for ground pork, it is 160 degrees.
  • Like any other meat, keep pork and its juices separate from other foods that you are preparing.
  • Wash your hands after handling meat.
  • If you're concerned about drugs in your meat, choose certified organic pork, or meat from Whole Foods, which requires that producers not use antibiotics or ractopamine.
  • Check the labels for a USDA Verified certification that no antibiotics were used.
  • If your local grocery store does not carry drug-free meat, ask them about carrying it.
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 3, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013