On Friday, researchers from the Translational Genomics Research Institute, a nonprofit biomedical research center in Phoenix, Ariz., reported that meat products lining the aisles of grocery stores in the U.S. are widely contaminated with drug-resistant strains of Staphylococcus Aureus.
The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease, examined 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey from 80 brands that were bought in Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Flagstaff, Ariz., and Washington, D.C.
The results showed that more than half of the samples were contaminated with S. Aureus, and that half of those samples were contaminated with strains that are resistant to at least three kinds of antibiotics, according to the AP.
S. Aureus can cause a number of problems from minor skin infections to more serious issues including pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis. Methicillin-resistant staph, or MRSA, which can be potentially fatal was found in three of the samples.
S. Aureus is not monitored by the USDA and the FDA does not routinely check meat products for it.
The American Meat Institute issued a statement arguing that meat is perfectly safe for consumers and that the study’s samples were too small to be significant. They also believe people will be safe if they properly cook meat products, and make a note of their suspicion that the bacteria are a result of human contamination, as opposed to coming from animals themselves.
However, researchers concluded that the strains of bacteria found were not from humans, and were from farm animals themselves, who are given approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. in a nontherapeutic manner, or before they get sick in order to compensate for unsanitary living conditions or to promote growth. The problem with this is animals receiving low doses of antibiotics on a regular basis are like walking petri dishes for bacterial growth that can result in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
These antibiotic strains of bacteria can be spread to other animals and to us through contaminated food products or by making their way into water supplies that have been tainted by manure in the forms of fertilizer and runoff.
Even if you don’t consume meat or dairy, you’re still susceptible to superbugs, which again, can be spread from person to person and by other means.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 76 million Americans are affected by food-borne illnesses each year. Of those, 2 million are cases of antibiotic resistant infections, 90,000 of which result in death. The National Academy of Sciences has estimated the annual cost of treating antibiotic resistant infections in the U.S. to be $30 billion.
“There is unequivocal evidence that decreasing antibiotic use in food production decreases antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the animals, decreases antibiotic-resistant bacteria on the foods and decreases antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people,” said Lance Price, author of the study.
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