Study finds bacteria in turkey products; industry disputes findings

Trying to serve up healthy meals? More and more people are opting for ground turkey instead of beef. Even Burger King has started serving up turkey burgers. Ground turkey can be a better choice. But a just-released Consumer Reports investigation reveals that it can also be a breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Overall, 90 percent of the samples analyzed had one or more of the five bacteria Consumer Reports looked for. Adding to that was the fact that most of those bacteria proved resistant to antibiotics.

Consumer Reports shipped 257 samples of ground turkey to an outside lab. There, scientists created a broth with each sample, to analyze it. More than half of the samples tested positive for the fecal contaminants enterococcus and E. coli, the majority of which were resistant to multiple antibiotics.

Some of those bacteria can cause food poisoning and many infections. The good news is that Consumer Reports found less antibiotic-resistance in bacteria from turkeys raised without antibiotics.

Using antibiotics in farm animals was once touted as a great innovation to prevent disease and promote growth. But Consumer Reports says it is now clear that giving turkeys and other animals antibiotics is accelerating the growth of drug-resistant superbugs. When people are sickened with those, they can be much harder to treat.

To kill any bacteria that might be present in ground turkey, you need to cook it thoroughly, to 165 F. You can also minimize your risk by making smart choices when you shop. Consumer Reports says look for ground turkey labeled either "raised without antibiotics" or "organic."

Turkey industry refutes Consumer Reports claims of contamination

In response to the new Consumer Reports study, The National Turkey Federation says it strongly disputes Consumer Reports' findings and calls the study alarmist and misleading.

In a response posted on its website, the NTF challenges both the methodology and conclusions of the Consumer Reports investigation.

"Consumer Reports had the opportunity to foster a serious, thoughtful discussion about food safety, but instead it chose to sensationalize findings and mislead people," said NTF President Joel Brandenberger in the posted response.

The National Turkey Federation says the two most prevalent pathogens highlighted by Consumer Reports, enterococcus and generic E. coli, are not considered sources of foodborne illness. The NTF statement maintains that by contrast, the Consumer Reports study found almost no prevalence of the two pathogens of public health concern, Campylobacter and Salmonella. The industry also challenges Consumer Reports conclusions about antibiotics.

Consumer Reports News Director Kate Begley says the nonprofit consumer group stands by both its test findings and its report. Begley points to the Food and Drug Administration's recent update
on antibiotics, bacterial resistance and animal food production - also released Tuesday.