Top 4 meats you may not want on your plate due to bacteria
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) highlights four meats that could cause human illness because they contain antibiotic resistant superbugs. How do you avoid getting sick from bacteria in meat?
In February, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System - a collaboration between the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Agriculture, published findings that grocery meat is contaminated with antibiotic resistant bacteria.
But the Environmental Working Group notes not much attention was paid to the report. So the group analyzed the government findings to ferret out just how common superbugs are in the meat you’re putting on your table.
The top four meats in grocery stores that contain bacteria include:
How bad is it?
The following is a list of bacteria found in grocery store meats:
53% of raw chicken in the supermarket was contaminated with bacteria found in feces –E. coli. The bacteria can cause diarrhea and urinary tract infections and can easily become resistant to antibiotics from gene sharing among bacteria.
The February list of tainted meat also showed 9% of chicken sampled in the grocery store and 10% of raw ground turkey was contaminated with an antibiotic resistant form of the bacteria salmonella.
The 2011 analysis showed 74% of raw chicken contaminated with salmonella, compared to less than 50% in 2002.
Another super bug detected on 26 percent of raw chicken pieces was Campylobacter jejuni that was also found on some turkey, though in significantly fewer amounts. However, the microbe that can cause diarrhea, autoimmune disease and paralysis in severe cases was found to be completely antibiotic resistant.
A worrisome finding the EWG says is a strain of E coli found in 2002 on 16% of ground turkey and 13% of chicken. More than six million infections in the United States each year are caused by the E coli strain.
Yersinia enterocolitica that can cause lasting bouts of diarrhea was found on pork in studies conducted last January by Consumer Reports.
Staph aureus, found on our skin that can cause infection from skin breaks or tears, was discovered by researchers at Northern Arizona University and the Translational Genomics Research Institute in 2011 on 74 percent of raw turkey in grocery stores.
What causes superbugs on our meat?
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALF) explains they are coming from the rampant use of antibiotics on factory farms – and the agricultural industry is not required to tell the public about their use.
One way to protect yourself and your family is by contacting the USDA and asking them to require disclosure.
Antibiotics used on factory farms in the U.S. are often given without a prescription and frequently without oversight of a Veterinarian. Eighty percent of antibiotics are sold for treating animals; not humans, according to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.
For now, the EWG suggests we consider all meat contaminated.
Why it matters
Last year, Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, said the result of antibiotic resistance could mean “things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again kill.”
In recognition of the problem, Denmark ended use of antibiotics on farms in the 1990’s.
The most recent series of federal tests showed a startlingly high number of meats contaminated with Enterococcus faecalis.
What that means is there are probably other bacteria in the meat. The government tested for the bacteria as a gauge, which could mean other bacteria are present on meats that are antibiotic resistant.
Out of 480 samples of turkey, pork, beef and chicken that were tested, turkey and pork were the most frequently contaminated with the superbug that comes from contact with feces. The bacteria were resistant to at least one antibiotic.
In all, 87% of meat was contaminated with Enterococcus faecalis, indicating the meat came in contact with fecal matter at some point.
How can you protect yourself and your family?
Currently the FDA only provides guidance to the agriculture industry about judicious use of antibiotics, suggesting they should only be used for sick animals and never to promote growth.
Just like physicians are asked to use antibiotics judiciously, so should the agriculture industry.
- You can protect yourself by:
- Buying meat that is labeled raised without antibiotics.
- Eat less meat raised on factory farms.
- Ask your local grocer to carry more meats that are not fact reform.
- Never put your meat next to raw produce.
- Use a separate cutting board when preparing vegetables in the kitchen.
- Use a food thermometer to make sure your meat is completely cooked.
- Never wash meat. The splashing can spread bacteria in your kitchen.
- When eating at a restaurant, ask if the meat was raised without antibiotics.
- If you’re a parent, don’t insist on antibiotics when your child is sick. It only makes antibiotic resistance worse when the drugs are prescribed for a viral infection that will run its course anyway.
- Take action by signing the ALF petition asking the FDA to label antibiotic us in our meat.