What are the riskiest meats? After examining more than 33,000 cases of foodborne illness connected to beef, pork, and poultry, a nutrition activist group concluded that chicken and ground beef are the most likely to make you really sick, while chicken nuggets, ham, and sausage pose the lowest risk of foodborne illness.
The group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, created the risk pyramid, shown at the left, as a guide for consumers to assess the health risks of handling certain raw meats. They looked not only at the number of Americans who became ill after consuming these products, but how sick they became from their infections—whether they were hospitalized or died from them.
Ground beef was determined to be the riskiest because it can harbor a nasty strain of E. coli bacteria, called 0157:H7, that leads to hospitalizations in half of those who are infected. Chicken also lands high on the list because it’s likely to contain Salmonella, which though not as severe as the E. coli strain, is more prevalent.
“To the chagrin of our nutritionists, ham, chicken nuggets and sausage were the lowest risk products,” said Sara Klein, spokesperson for the group. Turkey, far lower in heart-damaging saturated fat, was deemed to be higher risk.
In a Tuesday press briefing, Klein urged people to practice “defensive eating,” assuming that all raw meats are unsafe, and recommended using added precautions with the riskiest meats: wear disposable gloves when handling raw meats, and use meat thermometers to make sure ground beef is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and poultry to 165 degrees.
All meat should be fully cooked until juices run clear. And any meat that isn’t eaten right away should be kept in a warm oven or put immediately into the refrigerator so bacteria won’t have a chance to multiply.
Also, don’t use the same plate for raw meat and cooked foods—a particular problem during grilling season—and use separate cutting boards to cut raw meat products and vegetables. Washing hands with soap and water after handling any raw beef, poultry, or pork is also a must.