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More than half of ground turkey samples are contaminated with fecal bacteria, according to a new study from Consumer Reports. In addition, the magazine found that more than 90 percent of the ground turkey samples it tested contained at least one of the five bacteria the test was looking for - salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, enterococcus and campylobacter (though no campylobacter was found). The test covered 257 retail samples from 21 states and 27 different brands, all purchased in retail stores.
Sixty-nine percent of the ground turkey samples tested by Consumer Reports contained enterococcus, and 60 percent harbored E. coli - both of which are associated with fecal contamination. Some of the bacteria found in the tested samples can cause food poisoning, as well as urinary, bloodstream and other infections.
Industry groups were quick to attack the Consumer Reports findings. The National Turkey Federation refuted the study as "alarmist" in a press release on Tuesday.
"The magazine reported high levels of certain pathogens on the samples tested, but it is important to note that the two most prevalent, enterococcus and generic E.coli, are not considered sources of foodborne illness," the federation wrote.
The American Meat Institute also offered its take on the study in a press release on Tuesday, saying that while "the magazine chooses to focus today’s story on four bacteria their labs did find, the more important story is about the pathogenic bacteria of public health concern that they didn’t find or found at remarkably low levels."
In addition to evidence associated with fecal contamination, Consumer Reports also found that many of the disease-causing organisms it tested were resistant to antibiotics used to fight them. Consumer Reports tested both conventional turkey meat and turkey meat from birds that were not fed antibiotics. Conventional ground turkey was compared to ground turkey labeled “no antibiotics,” “organic,” (which doesn't use antibiotics) or “raised without antibiotics” - and all were found to be equally likely to contain the bacteria the magazine included in its study. However, bacteria on the antibiotic-free ground turkey was less likely to be antibiotic-resistant.