Super bug bacteria in meat and poultry, study says

Supply chain gone wrong: the results of the first study of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus in the U.S. food supply is not encouraging.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

If you grab chicken or some other meat from the grocery store, you have a one in four chance of grabbing one that is tainted with a super bug.

Scientists at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) looked at nearly 140 samples taken from 80 brands of beef, chicken, pork and turkey. After sampling the meat supply at supermarkets around the nation, researchers discovered that an alarming percentage of the meat was contaminated with multi-drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria linked to a number of human conditions.

The meat and poultry came from 26 stores from the following cities: Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff and Washington, D.C.

Meat and poultry inspectors usually look for many types of multi-drug-resistant bacteria, but staph is often times overlooked. The bacteria can cause skin infections and can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia and sepsis.

Here's a summary of what the study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found:

  • half of the meat sold in grocery stores are contaminated with S. aureus
  • one in four samples were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics
  • methicillin-resistant staph was found in three of the samples
  • the staph are resistant to up to nine different antibioitics, making it hard to treat

However, The New York Times reports that "federal health officials estimate that staph accounts for less than 3 percent of all food-borne illnesses. In a statement Friday, the American Meat Institute said the study was misleading." Businessweek reports staph infections occur only three percent of the time and are not nearly as common as other foodborne illnesses like salmonella and E. coli.

Still, the study highlights a risky farming practice that began nearly 50 years ago. The researchers suggested that the super bug likely made its way into the food chain because farmers cram animals into a packed farm and give them unnecessary antibiotics to promote their growth. This form of antibiotic abuse has gotten so widespread that healthy farm animals now receive around 70 percent of all antibiotics administered to farm animals.

“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,” TGen's Lance Price said in a statement.

Studies as far back as 1976 have shown a link between antibiotics and the spread of drug resistant bacteria in humans, reports Wired. And last year though, the Food and Drug Administration recommended that farmers only administer antibiotics to sick animals to minimize the use of the drugs, reports CBS.

One country at least, Denmark, has paid heed to the potential risks and have quit giving their animals low-dose antibiotics. Scientists hope they won't be the only one.

via TGen News

Photo: procsilas

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