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Chicken, Ground Beef Pose Biggest Food-Safety RiskChicken, Ground Beef Pose Biggest Food-Safety Risk

April 23, 2013

3 Min Read
Chicken, Ground Beef Pose Biggest Food-Safety Risk

WASHINGTONGround beef and chicken are the riskiest meat and poultry products in the U.S. food supply and pose the greatest likelihood of hospitalization from foodborne illness, according to a new report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The report also found chicken nuggets, ham, and sausage pose the lowest risk of foodborne illness.

The report, Risky Meat: A Field Guide to Meat & Poultry Safety,"  ranks 12 categories of meat and poultry based on outbreak reports and the likelihood of hospitalizations associated with the pathogens most commonly reported in those foods. CSPI analyzed more than 33,000 cases of foodborne illness connected to products regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

According to the report, ground beef and chicken are responsible for the largest numbers of outbreaks and cases of illnesses, and those illnesses tend to be more severe. E. coli O157:H7 was responsible for 100 outbreaks associated with ground beef in the 12-year study period. Because that pathogen is estimated to result in hospitalization in nearly half of those infected, ground beef had the highest severity index of the 12 meat and poultry categories. Ground beef is also connected to illnesses caused by Clostridium perfringens and Salmonella.

Outbreaks from ground beef and chicken are reported frequently, and all too often cause debilitating illnessesillnesses that lead to hospitalization," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. For example, approximately a quarter of those who are sickened by Salmonella will go to the hospital. The hospitalization rate for E. coli infections is nearly 50% and for Listeria infections it is more than 90%. "

Hospitalizations caused by Salmonella put chicken in the highest risk" category alongside ground beef. Clostridium perfringens and Norovirus also cause outbreaks associated with chicken. Campylobacter bacteria are also believed to cause a large number of individual illnesses associated with chicken but rarely cause outbreaks.

Meat and poultry producers must bear primary responsibility for keeping pathogens out of their products, but when it comes to beef, chicken, and other raw meats, restaurateurs and home cooks must treat them like hazardous materials and  take steps to minimize risk," said CSPI senior food safety attorney Sarah Klein.

CSPIs second tier, or high risk" category of meats includes steak and other forms of beef, but excludes roast beef, which is of medium risk. Steak is typically seared on both sides, which helps to kill surface bacteria, but E. coli O157:H7 is still a problem. The practice of mechanically tenderizing steak with blades or needles may drive surface bacteria into the steaks interior, thereby increasing risk. With steak and other forms of beef, Clostridium perfringens was the pathogen responsible for the greatest number of illnesses. Rounding out CSPIs high risk category is turkey. In fact, November and December have the most turkey-associated Clostridium illnessesindicating that holiday turkey left out on the table too long is partly to blame.

CSPIs medium risk" category includes barbecue, deli meat, pork (excluding ham and sausage), and roast beef. Listeria monocytogenes is a critical concern with deli meats. Listeria hospitalizes 94% of those who becomes infected, with the elderly, ill, and immune-compromised consumers being at greatest risk. CSPIs barbecue category includes beef and pork barbecue, but not chicken barbecue, and its pork category includes chops and roasts, but not ham. With both of those categories, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens and Staphylococcus aureus are the primary pathogens of concern.

Chicken nuggets, ham and sausage make up the low risk" category, reflecting their lower frequency and severity of illnesses. Norovirus is a common cause of infections from foods in this category, which suggests that improper food handling, such as insufficient hand-washing by restaurant workers, may be responsible for more illnesses than the foods themselves.

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