Don Mauer: Leaner pork may not be cleaner

Jan. 15, 2013 @ 03:20 PM

Wanting pork to be as lean as chicken (“the other white meat”) may have led to drug-enhanced leaner pork; here’s the round-about way I learned about this.
Recently, Consumer Reports, a highly trusted source for product testing and information, tested pork chops and ground pork for possible bacterial contamination.
The good news: 96-percent of all the pork they tested was free of Salmonella bacteria and 97 percent free of Listeria bacteria. Those levels could be better, but still that’s a strong record. Those results are based on the testing of 240 pork products from all over the country, including pork from The Fresh Market, Whole Foods and Walmart stores.
The not-so-good news: Consumer Reports found a difficult-to-pronounce bacterium, yersinia enterocolitica, in over two-thirds of all the tested pork. This bacterium was found to be more prevalent in ground pork than pork chops and could cause food poisoning, as all bacteria can, if not properly cooked.
If pork’s cooked properly (to 145 degrees for all pork cuts, 160 degrees for ground pork) bacterial contamination can be a non-issue. However, a few minor kitchen errors could make that contamination a cause for real concern.
Here’s where the drugs and pork issue gets interesting: CR went on to report that one-fifth of the sampled pork showed low but detectable levels of ractopamine (rack-toe-pa-mean), a feed additive that promotes accelerated lean muscle growth in animals, such as pigs.
In the 1990s, when fats became evil foodstuffs, consumers demanded that their meats and food products have less fat. At first, breeding made that a fairly successful goal. But that didn’t make meat producing animals quickly gain weight. Enter ractopamine in 1999.
According to Andrew Gunther, Program Director for Animal Welfare Approved (, “The European Union, China, Taiwan and more than 100 other countries have long banned its (ractopamine) use in livestock farming because of concerns about the effect of ractopamine residues in meat on human health. As a result, many countries will not import U.S. meat from animals that have been fed the drug.”
I’m no scientist, but if more than 100 countries are concerned enough about ractopamine to ban its use, doesn’t that raise a serious question about its U.S. use?
The FDA approved ractopamine for use in cattle in 2003 and turkeys in 2008.
In June 2012, Consumers Union, Consumer Reports’ parent organization, launched Meat Without Drugs ( that’s asking Trader Joe’s to source only meat raised without any antibiotics.
One thing you can do is buy pork directly from the producer at your local farmers’ market that has been raised naturally without the use of drugs. You can also buy organic pork, but the family food budget will take a definite hit. In the store, read the pork package carefully to determine whether antibiotics were used.
Want more information? Check out Consumers Union’s other consumer-action website: Get into the game; you can make a difference.
Don Mauer’s “Lean and Lovin’ It” column appears every other Wednesday. Don welcomes comments, suggestions and recipe makeover requests at
Love fried chicken but don’t want all the fat that usually comes along for the ride. Try my new panko-crumb crusted oven fried chicken that judiciously uses a buttermilk marinade to flavor and tenderize the chicken and a light olive oil spray for an extra crisp exterior. Yummmm.

Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 2 pounds), rinsed under cold water
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
Olive oil spray

Early in the day or the night before add chicken breasts and buttermilk to a one-gallon, resealable plastic bag. Make sure breasts are coated with the buttermilk, push as much air out of the bag as possible; seal and refrigerate.
Remove bag from refrigerator one hour before preparation.
Place the oven rack in the center position and begin heating the oven to 450 degrees.
In a medium bowl, stir together panko, salt, cayenne pepper and pepper and transfer to a dinner plate or a pie pan.
One by one, drain excess buttermilk from each breast and then place in the seasoned panko crumbs to evenly coat both sides, pressing crumbs into the chicken, and then place on a nonstick wire rack.
Lightly spray a jelly roll pan with olive oil. Transfer breasts to the pan and spray each one with olive oil. Bake, turning over once and spraying, until browned and cooked through, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
Nutrition values per serving: 299 calories(23.4 percent from fat), 7.8 g fat(1.1 g saturated fat), 16 g carbohydrate, 1.2 g fiber, 38.2 g protein, 88 mg cholesterol, 541 mg sodium.