In a recent study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, meat and poultry samples were tested for the presence of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria associated with a wide range of human diseases, including MRSA infection, the most dangerous drug-resistant Staph infection.
In the study, almost half the meat and poultry samples were found to be contaminated with S. aureus, and over half of those bacteria were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a major health risk, as doctors are running out of antibiotics that will treat these infections. That these bacteria are found on over half of meat at the supermarket is a scary thought.
The bacteria probably come from the food animals themselves, according to the researchers, and proper cooking should kill the bacteria. But cross contamination can occur when preparing the meat, so care needs to be taken during food prep.
A major culprit in bacterial resistance is the overuse of antibiotics in food production. “The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling,” said Dr. Lance B. Price, lead researcher of the study. These animals are exposed to constant low doses of antibiotics, which can trigger the development of antibiotic-resistance in bacteria.
As a matter of fact, consumer groups have recently sued the FDA over the excessive amount of non-therapeutic antibiotics used in animal-food production. The FDA has produced draft guidelines for the phasing out of non-therapeutic antibiotics in food production, but the consumer groups want to put more pressure on the FDA to act with urgency.
In the meantime, it’s a good idea to avoid meats raised with antibiotics. Look for antibiotic-free or organic meat. Those animals are not given antibiotics unnecessarily so they’re not contributing to the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are haunting our hospitals.