NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF/CONSUMER REPORTS) — How safe is the meat you serve your family? Since 2018, outbreaks of food poisoning associated with raw meat have sickened at least 1,200 people and ground meat is especially susceptible to contamination with harmful bacteria. Consumer Reports went to work to find out why, testing hundreds of samples of ground meat, with worrisome results.
Ground meat has long been a staple in our diets. From hamburgers, meatballs, and meatloaves — Americans bought more than $13 billion worth of ground meat last year. But that love of ground meat comes with a price. It’s one of the foods most likely to cause food poisoning.
"Nearly a third of the ground chicken we sampled contained salmonella," said James Rogers, Consumer Reports director of food safety research and testing.
Consumer Reports tested 351 samples of ground beef, pork, chicken, and turkey purchased nationwide, and found salmonella in samples of each meat.
A strain of E. coli, O157:H7, was found in a sample of ground beef that is so dangerous that when Consumer Reports alerted the Department of Agriculture, it triggered a recall of more than 28,000 pounds of the ground beef from major grocery chains in seven states.
Consumer Reports says these findings highlight serious flaws — not only in meat production and processing, but also government oversight.
"This strain of E. coli should not have been in the meat, period. There is a zero-tolerance policy for this strain of bacteria, and for good reason: It can kill, and it’s hard to treat," Rogers said.
So, why is ground meat potentially more dangerous than other types of meat? The answer is in the processing and production.
"When you buy a steak, that cut is from one cow. But a package of ground beef is derived from the meat from multiple cows mixed together. Which means one contaminated lot of meat can potentially contaminate many many pounds of ground meat," Rogers said.
Consumer Reports shared its ground chicken test results with producers who had at least one sample test positive. Perdue says only 5.5% of samples it recently spot checked were positive for salmonella. Far lower than the 36% of Perdue samples with the bacteria in Consumer Reports' tests. Walmart said it began a “salmonella interventions program” in 2014. Whole Foods said it has a quality assurance team that assesses salmonella reports from the USDA. Wholesome Pantry told Consumer Reports the company holds “our suppliers to strict industry standards.”
In the meantime, when you cook with ground meat, wash your hands in hot soapy water before you start prepping, then after every time you touch raw meat and again when you’re finished.
Use a dedicated cutting board just for raw meat. Never guess whether your meat is properly cooked — use a meat thermometer to make sure it is done. For ground poultry, look for 165 degrees Fahrenheit and 160 degrees for ground pork and beef.
Lastly, after you’re done eating, any leftovers should be refrigerated promptly. Cooked food shouldn’t be left out longer than two hours, or one hour if you’re outside and it’s 90 degrees or hotter.