WASHINGTON–Ground beef and chicken are by far the riskiest meat and poultry products in the American food supply and pose the greatest likelihood of hospitalization, according to a new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Furthermore, according to the nonprofit group’s analysis of more than 33,000 cases of food borne illness connected to products regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, chicken nuggets, ham, and sausage pose the lowest risk of food borne 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. Ground beef and chicken are not only responsible for the largest numbers of outbreaks and cases of illnesses, but those illnesses tend to be more severe. The deadly bacterium E. coli O157:H7, for instance, 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 illnesses—illnesses 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 percent and for Listeria infections it is more than 90 percent. ”
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. “Care should be taken to avoid spreading germs from the meat around the kitchen, and meat thermometers should be used to ensure that ground beef, chicken, and other meats are fully cooked.”