Having a hankering for a juicy hamburger? Well, you might not after you read this article and learn about the nasty things that might be in the meat products at your grocery store. Here’s a list of the nine grossest foods to avoid buying at your local supermarket:
1. “Pink Slime”
The gross factor: Meat processors call it “lean finely textured beef,” but after an ABC News report on it, the public calls it what it looks like: “pink slime.” It is a mixture of waste meat and fat from higher-quality cuts of beef that have had the fat mechanically removed. To kill Salmonella and E. coli bacteria, it’s treated with ammonia gas. Then it is added to ground beef as filler and is sold to you at your grocery store. Food microbiologists and meat producers insist that it’s safe to eat, but given the public’s reaction to the ABC News report, there’s an “ewe” factor that the public is having a hard time overcoming. The primary producer of pink slime just announced that its closing three of the plants where pink slime is produced, and Kroger, Safeway, Food Lion, McDonald’s and the National School Lunch Program, among others, have all pulled it from their menu items.
Healthier choice: Organic ground beef is prohibited from containing pink slime, per National Organic Program standards, so it’s your safest beef product to buy and serve to your family. If you can’t find organic, ask your butcher whether their products contain the “pink slime” so you’ll know what foods to avoid.
2. Veterinary Drugs in Beef
The gross factor: Hungry for a hamburger? In addition to containing protein, a 2010 report from the United States Department of Agriculture found hamburgers may also contain veterinary drugs like antibiotics, Ivermectin, an animal wormer and Flunixin, an anti-inflammatory.
Healthier choice: Buy beef products from local grass-fed beef producers that regularly rotate the animals on fresh grass paddocks, and ask about the use of animal medicines. Generally, grass-fed cows are much healthier and don’t require as many drugs. At the supermarket, buy organic meats to avoid veterinary drugs in meat products.
3. Instant Oatmeal Contaminated with Mercury
The gross factor: Those instant-oatmeal packets are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and, according to tests from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, they may be contaminated with mercury. In lab tests, one-third of the 55 samples tested contained mercury at levels up to three times higher than what an average woman should consume in a day.
Healthier choice: Buy instant oats and add your own flavorings, like fresh fruit or maple syrup. Other foods to avoid include all products that contain HFCS.
4. Filthy Shrimp
The gross factor: Food experts consider imported shrimp the dirtiest of the Seafood’s Dirty Dozen list because it is contaminated by antibiotics, cleaning chemicals used in shrimp farming pens, toxic residues from pesticides banned in the U.S., and parts of insects. Surprisingly, less than 2% of all imported seafood is inspected.
Healthier choice: Buy domestic shrimp. Unfortunately, 70% of domestic shrimp comes from the Gulf of Mexico, and the recent oil spill may have long-term impacts on its shrimp population. Your other options are to buy shrimp from Texas, the East Coast, Maine and the Carolinas.
5. MRSA in Meat
The gross factor: Antibiotic-resistant infections are a serious concern, and superbug strains like MRSA are on the rise, currently infecting 185,000 people — and killing 17,000 people — per year in the U.S. They are believed to proliferate on factory farms where antibiotics are overused to boost animal growth. In a January 2012 study from Iowa State University, researchers found that the dangerous organisms end up in supermarket meat, too. The MRSA strain was found in 7% of supermarket pork samples tested. If cooked properly, the bacteria dies, but improper handling can result in infection. The increase in superbug infections is believed to mostly be due to antibiotic abuse in farms that supply meat products to most supermarkets. Iowa state researchers found MRSA in store-bought “antibiotic-free” meat that was most likely contaminated at the processing plant.
Healthier choice: Buy meat from local producers. Go to LocalHarvest.org to source meat from small-scale producers who don’t use antibiotics or huge processing plants.
6. Pregnancy Hormones in a Can
The gross factor: Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that acts like the hormone estrogen in the body, is used to create the epoxy linings in canned food. It is a chemical that was created over 70 years ago as a drug intended to promote healthy pregnancies. Though it was never used as a drug, the food industry saw no problem adding it to a variety of products, including canned food linings and plastic food containers. “Low levels of BPA exposure has been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects, including abnormal development of reproductive organs, behavior problems in children, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic changes that result in altered insulin levels, which leads to diabetes,” says Sarah Janssen, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The use of this chemical in canned food is the main reason why 90% of Americans have it in their bodies. Many canned food producers are switching to BPA-free cans, but because those cans are produced in facilities that also produce BPA-based can linings, there’s no way to keep BPA-free cans from being contaminated.
Healthier choice: Buy products in glass bottles or aseptic cartons.
7. Bacteria-Infused Turkey
The gross factor: A 2011 study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases found that half of the U.S. supermarket meat sampled contain staph bacteria, including potentially lethal MRSA. Of all the offenders, turkey was the worst. Nearly 80% of turkey products sampled contained staph bacteria; 42% of pork samples contained bacterial contamination, followed by 41% of chicken, and 37% of beef. Researchers say the culprit is the overuse of antibiotics.
Healthier choice: Buy organic, pastured turkey and other organic meats.
8. Moldy Berries
The gross factor: According to food regulations, canned and frozen blackberries and raspberries are allowed to contain 60% mold, and canned fruit and vegetable juices are allowed to contain up to 15% mold.
Healthier choice: Choose fresh berries instead of canned or frozen. Stock up on berries when they are in season and freeze your own so you can enjoy them throughout the year.
9. Rocket Fuel in Lettuce
The gross factor: Lettuce is a great source of antioxidants, and thanks to the great state of California, you can eat it year-round. However, much of the lettuce grown in California is irrigated with water from the Colorado River, which is contaminated, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Agency says the Colorado River contains low levels of perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel that harms thyroid function, and that perchlorate can be absorbed in lettuce plants. Another study from the Environmental Working Group found perchlorate in one-half of the store-bought, winter lettuce samples it tested.
Healthier choice: It’s difficult to avoid perchlorate because some of the highest levels in the country have been found in California farmlands. If you eat locally and in season, ask your local farmers whether it’s a problem in their irrigation water.
Being aware of these foods to avoid will help you make better choices when shopping at your local grocery store.