(WSYR-TV) — How safe is the meat you serve your family? Since 2018, outbreaks of food poisoning associated with raw meat have sickened at least 1,200 people, and ground meat is especially susceptible to contamination with harmful bacteria. Consumer Reports went to work to find out why, testing hundreds of samples of ground meat, with worrisome results.

Consumer Reports tested 351 samples of ground beef, pork, chicken, and turkey purchased
nationwide, and found salmonella in samples of each meat.

Almost a third of the ground chicken sampled contained salmonella.

A strain of E. coli, O157:H7, is so dangerous that when we found it in a sample of ground beef, we alerted the Department of Agriculture, It triggered a recall of more than 28,000 pounds of the ground beef from major grocery chains in seven states.

CR says these findings highlight serious flaws—not only in meat production and processing but also in government oversight.

This strain of E. coli should not have been in the meat, period. There is a zero-tolerance policy for this strain of bacteria, and for good reason: It can kill, and it’s hard to treat.

So why is ground meat potentially more dangerous than other types of meat? The answer is in the processing and production.

When you buy a steak, that cut is from one cow. But a package of ground beef is derived from the meat of multiple cows mixed together. That means one contaminated lot of meat can potentially contaminate many pounds of ground meat.

CR shared its ground chicken test results with producers who had at least one sample test
positive. Perdue says only 5.5 percent of samples it recently spot checked were positive for
salmonella, far lower than the 36 percent of Perdue samples with the bacteria in CR’s tests.
Walmart said it began a “salmonella interventions program” in 2014. Whole Foods said it has a quality assurance team that assesses salmonella reports from the USDA. Wholesome Pantry told CR the company holds “our suppliers to strict industry standards.”

When you cook with ground meat, wash your hands in hot, soapy water before you start
prepping, then after every time you touch raw meat and again when you’re finished.

Use a dedicated cutting board just for raw meat.

And never guess whether your meat is properly cooked. Use a meat thermometer to make sure it is done: 165° F for ground poultry, 160° F for ground pork and beef.

After you’re done eating, any leftovers should be refrigerated promptly. Cooked food shouldn’t be left out longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if you’re outside and it’s 90° F or hotter.