Delegates at the Chicago-based 2001 Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy heard recently how pork might harbour more deadly food poisoning bacteria than poultry.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed to the conference the results of a wide-raging study on nearly 600 packages of ground pork purchased from different grocery stores across five US states.

The scientists found high levels of Enterococci bacteria on 3% of the packages. This bacterium is a common cause of food poisoning and, being resistant to antibiotic drugs, causes death in 37% of cases.

Lead researcher Jennifer McClennan explained that the problem of higher contamination might be due to the format of the meat: “With pork chops or steaks, you’ve got bacteria contamination on the outside [but with ground meats contamination is throughout].” She added that consumers should take care when preparing pork to ensure that it is cooked thoroughly.

Dutch scientists meanwhile reported that the Enterococci bacteria in pigs are more harmful to humans than the same type of bacteria found in poultry. The researchers argued that this could be because of the levels of antibiotics used on the animals – which have the effect of promoting the antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that thrives longer in human consumers.