The Unexpected (and Totally Gross) Things That May Be Hiding in Your Turkey Burger

A new study from Consumer Reports says more than half the samples of ground turkey it tested contained fecal bacteria. Eww!

Talk about disgusting: A new study from Consumer Reports has found fecal bacteria contamination in more than half of the samples of raw ground turkey and ground turkey patties tested. And that's not the only gross thing hidden in the meat.

According to the investigation, a whopping 90 percent of the 257 samples (purchased from retail stores nationwide) contained one or more of the five bacteria for which they were tested.

So what, exactly, was lurking in that meat? Salmonella and staphylococcus aureus, which cause foodborne illness; enterococcus and E-coli, which "are associated with fecal contamination"; and even methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (a.k.a. MRSA), which was found in three of the samples.

Furthermore, according to the report, "Ground turkey labeled 'no antibiotics,' 'organic,' or 'raised without antibiotics' was as likely to harbor bacteria as products without those claims. (After all, even meat from organic birds can pick up bacteria during slaughter or processing.) The good news is that bacteria on those products were much less likely to be antibiotic-­resistant superbugs."

Not surprisingly, the National Turkey Federation issued a press release, published in the Wall Street Journal online on Tuesday, disputing the findings.

"Consumer Reports had the opportunity to foster a serious, thoughtful discussion about food safety, but instead it chose to sensationalize findings and mislead people," NTF president Joel Brandenberger said in the release. The NTF noted that two of the most prevalent pathogens found by Consumer Reports, Enterococcus and generic E.coli, "are not considered sources of foodborne illness."

What a relief.

So basically, while there's a good chance you might be eating -- let's just say it here -- poop when you're eating ground turkey, chances are it's not going to make you sick, and let's face it: you have no idea if you're ingesting the same kinds of pathogens in all kinds of other meat, anyway. (Consumer Reports even says, in its recommendations, "Know that no type of meat -- whether turkey, chicken, beef, or pork -- is risk free.")

What can ground turkey lovers do (besides quit eating it, well, cold turkey)? Here are Consumer Reports' recommendations:

--Buy turkey labeled "organic" or "no anti­biotics." Organic and no-antibiotics brands in the Consumer Reports tests were: Coastal Range Organics, Eberly, Giant Eagle Nature's Basket, Harvestland, Kosher Valley, Nature’s Place, Nature's Promise, Nature's Rancher, Plainville Farms, Wegmans, Whole Foods and Wild Harvest. It may still harbor bacteria, as noted above, but that bacteria is less likely to be antibiotic-resistant.

--Cook ground turkey to at least 165° F to kill pathogens. (Use a meat thermometer.)

--Don't return cooked meat to the same plate that held raw meat.

See all of the recommendations here.

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