90% Of Ground Turkey Contains Disease-Causing Bacteria


Ground turkey bought at retail stores nationwide contains disease-causing bacteria, a new study by Consumer Reports suggests.


At least one disease-causing strain of bacteria was found on 90% of ground turkey samples, the report said [PDF].

They tested 257 samples of ground turkey from 21 states and 27 different brands for the presence of five bacteria: campylobacter; the two leading causes of food borne illness in the US, salmonella and staphylocaoccus aureus; enterococcus; and Escherichia coli.

These bacteria can cause food poisoning but also urinary, bloodstream, and other infections.

Even scarier, almost all of those bacteria were resistant to at least one — and usually multiple — antibiotics, the report says [PDF].


Farmers dose animals with antibiotics to prevent illness — even when the birds are healthy. continued exposure to antibiotics forces the bacteria to evolve to be resistant to them.

That makes these disease-causing bacteria even more dangerous, because if you catch them, they are much harder to treat because normal antibiotics don't kill them anymore.

And surprisingly, the researchers didn't find a difference between ground turkey farmed traditionally or those labeled as having been raised without antibiotics or labeled organic. Those turkey samples were just as likely to contain bacteria as other types, although the bacteria on those products were less likely to be antibiotic-resistant.

Some plants were worse than others when it came to the contamination in the turkey samples. You can determine what plant your turkey comes from by looking at the food's labels. And the FSIS Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory [PDF] has information on the plants, including contact information.

Below are the plants (P18, P963, etc) tested in the report, and the percentages of the samples that were found to contain each of the five bacteria. You can see that P244 seems to have a bigger problem with staph aureus than the other plants:


ground turkey bacteria by plant

Jennifer Welsh/Business Insider

Bacteria testing by poultry plant.

Another recent study, done by the Center for Science In The Public Interest, found that ground beef and chicken are some of the most likely meats to get you severely sick, based on reports of actual illness.

(Salmonella and E. coli, two of the bacteria analyzed in the ground turkey study, caused 1/3 of the illnesses documented in the second report.)

That report found that turkey products (not just ground turkey) had caused 130 outbreaks of foodborne illnesses in 12 years.

Food safety expert Sarah Klein warned MyHealthNewsDaily to be extra careful when handling any of these meats — wash your hands when handling and preparing meat, and cook the meats thoroughly to kill the bacteria.


The American Poultry Association didn't respond to our request for a comment on the report.