MRSA, methicillin resistant Staph aureus, now kills more Americans every year than AIDS, and it’s invaded our meat supply. Last week, the largest survey of U.S. retail meat was published and found the highest level of contamination to date. Three hundred ninety-five pork samples were collected off the shelves of a total of 36 stores in Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. Twenty-six (6.6%) were carrying MRSA.
In the hospitals where I’ve worked, MRSA requires contact precautions, meaning you can’t even walk into a MRSA-positive patient’s room unless you’re gloved, masked, and gowned. Yet we continue to let our children run up and down the meat aisle even though that’s where MRSA contamination has now been confirmed. For more on this phenomenon, today’s NutritionFacts.org video pick covers both MRSA and C. diff (Clostridium difficile) above.
We don’t yet know how many people are being infected by meat. Quoting from the study’s conclusion: “unknown is the frequency of MRSA transmission to humans, via colonization or infection from food service professional and consumer handling and consumption of raw, undercooked and cooked MRSA-positive meat.”
The new study found no significant difference in MRSA prevalence in conventional pork (6.3% contaminated) versus alternative “raised without antibiotics” pork products (7.4% contamination). The researchers suggest this may be due to cross-contamination in the slaughterplant. Previous studies have implicated pig confinement operations as particularly risky. Watch the 90 second video Airborne MRSA for more on the role of swine CAFOs.
For background on the threat of routinely feeding antibiotics to farm animals, watch Drug Residues in Meat (6 min) and U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph (3 min). As the Director-General of the World Health Organization recently warned about multidrug-resistant pathogens like MRSA, “the world is heading toward a post-antibiotic era in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, will kill unabated.”
Michael Greger, M.D.
Image credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention