Consumer Reports says it has found high rates of bacteria in its testing and analysis of pork chop and ground-pork samples from six U.S. cities.

Especially high rates of yersinia, a bacterium that can cause food poisoning, were found, with the bacterium being detected in 69 percent of the 198 pork samples tested. Yersinia and many other bacteria detected in the samples are resistant to antibiotics, Consumer Reports says.

"Antibiotics are routinely fed to healthy animals at low levels. This practice promotes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria which are a major public health concern," says Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. "Infections caused by resistant bacteria are more difficult to treat and can lead to increased suffering and costs."

Other key findings from the analysis include:

  • Yersinia enterocolitica, was found in 69 percent of the tested pork samples. This lesser-known bacteria is estimated to cause foodborne illness in about 100,000 Americans a year, especially children, and is associated with pork.
  • Salmonella, staphylococcus aureus, or listeria monocytogenes, more well-known causes of foodborne illness, were found in 3 to 7 percent of samples. And 11 percent harbored enterococcus, which can indicate fecal contamination and can cause non-foodborne related infections such as urinary-tract infections.
  • Most of the bacteria found were resistant to at least one of the tested antibiotic drugs. This is also worrisome because people infected by those bugs may need to take a stronger (and more expensive) antibiotic.
  • Ground pork was more likely than pork chops to harbor pathogens.
  • Very low, but detectible levels of ractopamine were found in about one-fifth of the samples tested for the drug.  Beta-agonist drugs like ractopamine can cause restlessness, anxiety, fast heart rate and other effects. While levels we found were below U.S. and international limits, Consumers Union, the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports, calls for a ban on the drug, citing insufficient evidence that it is safe.
  • Misleading and unapproved claims such as "no antibiotic growth promotants" and "no antibiotic residues" were found on some packages of pork and reported to the USDA for investigation.
  • No labels disclose the use of ractopamine. Government standards for "no antibiotics used" and "no hormones added" claims do not prohibit the use of ractopamine.

More information about this study can be found on the Consumer Reports website.