Bacteria found in meat

Ground beef

Ground meat is very versatile. We can shape it into burgers, meatballs, and meatloaf. It can be stirred into chili and pasta sauce or stuffed into peppers, lasagna, and tacos. Americans like it so much that in 2021 alone, we purchased more than $13 billion worth of ground beef, turkey, pork, and chicken. But there’s a problem.

While meat increases the risk of many diseases, meat, especially ground meat, also often carries bacteria that can make you sick – or worse!

To assess the current safety of the nation’s ground meat supply, Consumer Reports recently tested 351 packages of ground beef, pork, chicken, and turkey purchased at stores throughout the country. Almost a third of the ground chicken packages they tested contained salmonella. They also found salmonella in a few samples of ground beef, pork, and turkey. To make matters worse, every single strain of salmonella was resistant to at least one antibiotic. We’ve written about the problem of antibiotic resistance developing in farmed animals before. That problem doesn’t seem to have gone away.

They also found a strain of E. coli in a sample of ground beef that is so dangerous that they had to alert the Department of Agriculture to their findings, triggering a recall of more than 28,000 pounds of the meat from major grocery chains in seven Western states.  According to James E. Rogers, PhD, director of food safety research and testing at Consumer Reports, and a former official at the USDA, “That bacteria should not have been in the meat, period. There is a zero-tolerance policy for that bacteria, and for good reason: It’s hard to treat, and can kill.” The E. coli was in a package of Kroger-branded ground beef purchased at a grocery store in Seattle and it triggered a rapid recall of products sold at several chains across the West and Southwest.

Cattle feedlot

Now salmonella, E coli, plus the many other dangerous kinds of bacteria that Consumer Reports didn’t test for, come from animals, especially their intestinal tracts. They are produced by animals, so when we hear of some plant-food that has harmful bacteria, we should remember that the reason is that they were contaminated by animals, animal products, workers with animals, in the grocery store or in the kitchen.

On a national and global level, the only way to prevent harmful bacteria that come from farm animals is to not raise animals for food. This  means the widespread adoption of a plant-based diet, which would prevent millions of illnesses.