Monday, July 15, 2013

Hot food topics: Fecal bacteria, GMO and mercury

Consumer Reports came up with disturbing findings when it tested samples of ground turkey bought at retail stores nationwide.

By Victor E. Sasson

Lean ground turkey sounds like a healthier alternative to ground beef, but consumers may be  getting more than just poultry, according to Consumer Reports.

"In our first-ever lab analysis of ground turkey, more than half of the packages of raw ground meat and patties tested positive for fecal bacteria," the June 2013 issue reports.

The bacteria found most often were Enterococcus  and Escherichia coli or E. coli.

"Ground turkey labeled 'no antibiotics,' 'organic' or 'raised without antibiotics' was as likely to harbor bacteria as products without those claims," the magazine said. 

"(After all, even meat from organic birds can pick up bacteria during slaughter and processing.)

"The good news," according to the magazine, "is that bacteria on these products were much less likely to be antibiotic-resistant superbugs."

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration found even higher rates of contamination than Consumer Reports, the magazine said.

Non-GMO feed

Organic turkeys and chickens do have one clear advantage from a consumer standpoint:

"Organic birds must eat only certified organic feed and pasture, which means no genetically modified organisms" (GMO), the magazine said. 

One of the ingredients in my canned fish salad with chickpeas is Genova-brand Premium Yellowfin Tuna, marked "Solid White Tuna" on 7-ounce cans from Costco Wholesale.

Mercury in tuna

I enjoyed a beautiful loin of rare yellowfin tuna the other night at Bel Posto, the fine-dining restaurant on Prospect Avenue in Hackensack.

But the next day, I did some research out of my concern over mercury in tuna, which I usually try to avoid when eating sushi.

Yellowfin, it turns out, are smaller than other types of tuna, according to research at Rutgers University I saw on the Web site of the American Museum of Natural History:

"Research at Rutgers University on the mercury content of tuna served in restaurants and sold in supermarkets shows surprisingly that tuna sushi purchased in supermarkets might be healthier than that from restaurants. 

"Sushi samples for this research project were taken from 54 restaurants and 15 supermarkets in New York, New Jersey, and Colorado. 

"The sushi made for supermarkets tends to be yellowfin tuna.

"Although yellowfin tuna is very lean, this species tends to have lower accumulation of mercury, likely because yellowfin are typically smaller than other tuna and are harvested at a younger age. 

"Furthermore, yellowfin are tropical and do not 'thermoregulate' like the warm-blooded bigeye tuna and bluefin tuna. 

"Because bigeye and bluefin species eat three times more than yellowfin to maintain their energy level, they might bioaccumulate, or slowly increase the level of toxins over time."

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