12/28/2011 04:35 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2011

There's A 25% Chance Your Ground Meat Has A Potentially Fatal Bacteria

Mark Bittman has yet another fascinating column in the New York Times, this time on the prevalence of bacteria in meat. He discusses a study that analyzed 80 brands of beef, pork chicken and turkey from five cities. The study found that 47% of the meat contained the bacteria staphylococcus aureus and that 52% were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics. One particular line struck us:

So when you go to the supermarket to buy one of these brands of pre-ground meat products, there's a roughly 25 percent chance you'll consume a potentially fatal bacteria that doesn't respond to commonly prescribed drugs.

Yup, you read that right folks -- based on this study, there is about a one-in-four chance that your ground meat contains a potentially fatal bacteria. Now why is that the case? That's when things get tricky. There has always been problems with giving antibiotics to healthy farm animals, but the practice is widespread nonetheless. In short, antibiotic use on farms can be linked to rising rates of drug-resistant infections.

Now it turns out that the FDA recently decided not to fight against this antibiotic use. So that means that, for the time being, if you use pre-packaged ground beef to make a hamburger, it's probably best to cook the meat through rather than keeping it tastily rare. (Even antibiotic resistant bacteria can be killed by sufficient heat.) Or better yet, grind high-quality meat yourself, or have a reputable butcher grind it right in front of your eyes.

Bittman sums up the problems with this quite succinctly; read his column "Bacteria 1, F.D.A. 0" here.