47% of Meat in U.S. Tainted by Staph Bacteria

Tainted Meat... Don't Touch Me Please

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted April 18, 2011

It's a scary week for meat eaters...

"Staph Bacteria Found in Half of U.S. Meat"

"1 in 4 Supermarket Meat samples Tainted with Drug-Resistant Bacteria"

"US Meat and Poultry is Widely Contaminated, study says"

The results of a report published on Friday by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases are buzzing on the Web and the evening news, warning consumers of widespread contamination in meat and poultry.

Nearly half of all meat in the United States tested by researchers tested positive for drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus.

Researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute collected 136 samples of chicken, pork, turkey, and beef.

The study tested 80 brands in 26 retail grocery stores in five cities across the country: Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Flagstaff.

They found strains of Staph bacteria in a whopping 47% of the meat they tested.

What's more, more than half of those contaminated samples were resistant to at least three different types of antibiotics, including methicillin and more common antibiotics like amoxicillin and penicillin.

“For the first time, we know how much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staph, and it is substantial,” said Lance B. Price, Ph.D., senior author of the study and Director of TGen’s Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health.

So on top of E. coli and salmonella, carnivores can now add staph bacteria to the list of potential dangers that come with consuming meat from industrial animal farming.

Drug-resistant Staph is largely the result of overexposure.

The report pointed out that industrial farms and the methods of steadily feeding livestock low doses of antibiotics creates an ideal breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria...

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, nearly 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the year 2009 were reserved for livestock and poultry.

“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,” Price explained.

The bacteria has grown resistant to the drugs that would normally be used to kill them before they are available in grocer cases. This same untreated bacteria moves from the animals to the consumers who eat them.

antibioticsanimals

Surely you've heard of Staph before...

Staphylococcus is the general term for more than 30 strains of bacteria that can cause infections of the skin as well as food poisoning.

But the particular strain found in the meat samples during  research Staphylococcus aureus has been linked to more serious health ailments than skin rashes and infections, including respiratory problems, sepsis (an illness that occurs when the bloodstream is overwhelmed by bacteria), and endocarditis (inflammation of the inside lining of the heart chambers and heart valves).

It's pretty serious stuff, and yet Staphylococcus aureus is NOT among the four types of drug-resistant bacteria the U.S. government looks for during the survey of retail meat...

In November 2010, Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Thomas R. Frieden confirmed the department “feels there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.” (This in response to a letter asking the Center for Disease Control and Prevention address the issue of antibiotic use in industrial farm animal production).

Those who are most susceptible to health problems associated with food contamination are usually children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems due to cancer and HIV/AIDS patients. The treatment of antibiotic-resistant infections is costly and difficult.

“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.

So what can consumers do?

  • You can monitor the handling and preparation of meat you and your family consumes. Staph bacteria, much like Salmonella, can be killed by cooking meat thoroughly and with proper handling and sanitizing.

    Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry. Pay particular attention to foods prepared for babies, young children, and the elderly — as well as those with weaker immune systems. (More information from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention available here.)
  • You can support legislation that would monitor the use of antibiotics among ranchers and livestock farmers. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act was introduced in 2009 and has been pending Congress since.

  • You can buy grass-fed, pastured beef and chicken. Grass-fed animals with vegetable diets avoid a diet of corn and soy, synthetic growth hormones, and of course, antibiotics. (Added health bonus: Grass-fed beef generally has much less saturated fat than USDA-approved beef.)

And, quite simply, you might consider consuming less meat and poultry...

A diet of raw foods, fruits, grains, and vegetables that have not been juiced up on antibiotics is as safe a bet as any that you won't be ingesting a strain of Staph with your supper.

Brigid