Two studies, one released last week and the second made public today, have scientifically tested beef, chicken, pork and turkey purchased from groceries in six cities from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
What they found was enough to make a caveman queasy.
Samadpour's staff purchased 100 packages of chicken parts and fryers from 10 Seattle-area groceries during March. The analysis of these samples found that 65 percent of the birds tested had campylobacter, 19 percent had salmonella and 2 percent had E. coli or listeria.
U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at all slaughterhouses or processing plants watch for these poisonous bacteria. However, Samadpour also found that an alarming number of the poultry samples had a bacteria the government doesn't look for -- Staphylococcus aureus.
Staphylococcus aureus is a fast-acting toxin that often causes gastrointestinal symptoms within 30 minutes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it sickens at least 240,000 people a year.
Samadpour told AOL News that 10 percent of the samples had the even more concerning, and multi-drug-resistant, S. aureus, or MRSA. Handling contaminated chicken with a cut or break in the skin is a screaming invitation for MRSA to enter the body. Public health experts warn that bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a serious problem, as it often makes many diseases difficult if not impossible to treat.
The study was funded by Seattle food safety lawyer William Marler, who, as AOL News reported in the past, had commissioned Samadpour's labs to test 5,000 samples of beef for the presence of non-O157 strains of E. coli. They documented that millions of pounds of beef sold throughout the country were contaminated with strains of dangerous E. coli that the USDA neither outlaws nor apparently cares much about.
"I funded the chicken study because I'm concerned that consumers don't understand how many pathogens may be on the chicken they purchase and serve to their families," Marler told AOL News.
Marler said he was concerned because one of the samples was contaminated with E. coli 0126, a bacteria usually found only in beef.
All the contamination most likely occurs because of sloppiness in the processing facilities, where the meat comes into contact with feces, which causes most of the dangerous bacteria to flourish, Marler said.
Marler and food safety agencies recommend that great care be used when handling the uncooked chicken at home and that the poultry must be cooked to 165 degrees, which should kill most of the bacteria that leads to food poisoning.
The exception to that cook-it-to-death rule may well be staph-contaminated meat, because those toxins are far more resistant to heat and the meat must be cooked more thoroughly to be made safe, food safety experts say.
That fact alone makes the findings of another group of food scientists more troubling.
A nationwide study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) published this month in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases reported on the analysis of 136 samples -- 80 different brands -- of beef, chicken, pork and turkey. They were purchased at 26 retail grocery stores in Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff, Ariz., and Washington, D.C.
Lance Price, senior author of the study, says nearly half of the meat and poultry samples -- 47 percent -- was contaminated with S. aureus. And more concerning is that more than half of those staph bacteria -- 52 percent -- were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.
Drug-resistant strains of staphylococcus aureus are linked to a wide range of human afflictions, from minor skin infections to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, endocarditis and sepsis.
The scientists say that their study, supported by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trust, is the first national assessment of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus in the U.S. food supply.
Their DNA testing suggests that the food animals themselves were the major source of contamination, and the Arizona team blames overcrowded industrial farms, where food animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics, as ideal breading grounds for the contaminant. Price calls this fact "troubling," noting that it "demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today."
"The single most effective way to reduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food is to stop feeding millions of animals antibiotics," he said in a press conference announcing the study.
Staphylococcus aureus infects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Before the discovery of antibiotics, staph infections were associated with extremely high mortality rates, Price told AOL News.
"Our study shows [for the first time] that retail meat and poultry are routinely contaminated with S. aureus that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. These products are potential sources of human exposure and infection from multi-drug-resistant staph," said Price, who is the director of TGen's Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health.
"Antibiotics are the most important drugs that we have to treat staph infections. But when staph are resistant to three, four, five or even nine different antibiotics -- like we saw in this study -- that leaves physicians few options," Price said.
Many food safety activists have expressed concern over the results of the studies.
"This is a public health risk because these bacteria can cause food-borne illness. What makes it even more insidious is the fact that this bacteria is resistant to antibiotics. There needs to be a broader sample, though, to ascertain the extent to which this situation is widespread," Tony Carbo of the nonprofit Food and Water Watch told AOL News.
The American Meat Institute, the industry's lead lobbying arm, told AOL News in a statement sent Monday that the sample size is insufficient to reach the sweeping conclusions conveyed by the Arizona scientists.
"Despite the claims of this small study, consumers can feel confident that meat and poultry is safe," said the group's president, James Hodges. "Federal data show that S. aureus infections in people that are caused by food are uncommon."
What about the almost 250,000 illnesses that the CDC attributes to Staphylococcus aureus in food each year?
"While our goal is to get as close to zero foodborne illnesses linked to meat and poultry as science permits, the fact is that the 241,000 estimated human infections with S. aureus from all foods comprise one half of one percent of the total foodborne illnesses that CDC estimates occur annually in the U.S." American Meat Institute spokesman Tom Super said.