The results are in: One in four supermarket meat samples is tainted with drug-resistant bacteria.
According to NPR, nearly a quarter of the meat and poultry sold in U.S. supermarkets is infected with bacteria. The news organization cites research from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), which sampled meat around the country and found that “47 percent had evidence of Staphylococcus aureus contamination. More than half of the bacteria they found were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics, according to the study, published today in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.”
Researchers collected and analyzed 136 samples — covering 80 brands — of beef, chicken, pork, and turkey from 26 retail grocery stores in five U.S. cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff, and Washington, D.C.
In a TGen press release, Lance B. Price, senior author of the study and director of the center’s Food Microbiology and Environmental Health, said, “For the first time, we know how much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staph, and it is substantial.”
If the headline doesn’t scare you, here are some reasons for concern:
- DNA testing suggests that the food animals themselves were the major source of contamination. (That’s another reason to avoid feedlot meat!)
- Although Staph should be killed with proper cooking, it may still pose a risk to consumers through improper food handling and cross-contamination in the kitchen.
- S. aureus can cause a range of illnesses from minor skin infections to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia, endocarditis, and sepsis.
- The drug-resistant strains found in the meat and poultry samples are especially difficult to treat because they’ve evolved beyond the regular arsenal of drugs that kill them.
- S. aureus isn’t among the four types of drug-resistant bacteria the U.S. government looks for when it surveys retail meat. The researchers suggest that we need a better inspection program to help track the presence of the bug.
“The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today,” Dr. Price said.
Densely-stocked industrial farms, where food animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics, are ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans, the report says.
Antibiotics use among livestock has been generating concern lately, as 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in 2009 were reserved for livestock and poultry, according to the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that “there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”
No wonder everyone is sick all the time.