high levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria found in meat

A study conducted by the Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGRI) and released last Friday found that nearly half of all meat products sampled contained high levels of bacteria and some strains were resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.

The research team examined 136 meat samples from 26 grocery stores in Illinois, Florida, California, Arizona and Washington D.C., many containing high levels of Staphylococcus aureus (S.Aureus) bacteria according to the study’s head researcher, Dr. Lance Price, who says that Staph causes hundreds of thousands of infections in the United States every year, killing more people than HIV. “It causes a whole slew of infections ranging from skin infections to really bad respiratory infections like pneumonia,” he says.

Price said the biggest finding in the study was not necessarily the high levels of bacteria, but the degree of resistance to antibiotics, which are routinely used in animals raised for food as a preventative measure because factory farmed animals live in tight, unsanitary conditions, making them more prone to spreading disease. And practices such as tail docking and beak searing can lead to infections along with the crammed living conditions, among other unsanitary practices that put food and safety into question.

A spokesperson for the FDA said that the organization has been closely monitoring the situation and working with the USDA and Centers for Disease Control to better understand cause and effect, and added that even the researchers at TGRI say that the public health relevance of the study’s findings is unclear. Consumers are advised to handle and cook meat properly to avoid risks of contamination.

California residents looking to replace Staph-infected meat and poultry with local fish may want to reconsider that choice as well. The LA Times reported over the weekend that the “do not eat” list of area fish has been expanded from 1 to 5. The “red zone” between Santa Monica and Seal Beach contains white croaker, a commonly caught fish long known to contain high levels of the banned pesticide, DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane). Now added to that list: barracuda, topsmelt, black croaker and barred sand bass, which may also contain high levels of DDT , PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and mercury that have proven unsafe to eat.

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Photo: Anthony Albright