Some bacteria in grocery meat resistant to antibiotics: study

NEW YORK Fri Apr 15, 2011 1:41pm EDT

Customers shop for meat at Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas, June 4, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

Customers shop for meat at Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas, June 4, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi

Related Topics

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Researchers have found high levels of bacteria in meat commonly found on grocery store shelves, with more than half of the bacteria resistant to multiple types of antibiotics, according to a study released on Friday.

While the meat commonly found in grocery stores is still safe to eat, consumers should take precautions especially in handling and cooking, the chief researcher for the study said.

The study by the Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGRI) examined 136 meat samples from 26 grocery stores in Illinois, Florida, California, Arizona and Washington D.C.

Dr. Lance Price, the head researcher on the study, said high levels of Staphylococcus aureus (S.Aureus) bacteria were found in the meat.

"Staph causes hundreds of thousands of infections in the United States every year," Price said in an interview. "It causes a whole slew of infections ranging from skin infections to really bad respiratory infections like pneumonia."

Staph infections also kill more people in the United States each year than HIV, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said that the agency was aware of the TGRI findings, and similar studies of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meats, and was working with the U.S. Agriculture Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the causes and effects.

"FDA has been monitoring the situation. The TGRI study points out that the public health relevance of the findings is unclear. FDA continues to work with CDC and USDA to better understand this issue," the FDA spokeswoman said.

Price said the most significant findings from the study aren't the level of bacteria they found, but rather how the bacteria in the meat was becoming strongly resistant to antibiotics farmers use to treat the animals they slaughter.

The study found that in 96 percent of the meats with staph bacteria the bacteria were resistant to at least one type of antibiotic, and 52 percent were resistant to three or more types.

"The bacteria is always going to be there. But the reason why they're resistant is directly related to antibiotic use in food animal production," Price said. "Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to public health we face today."

"This is one more reason to be very careful when you're handling raw meat and poultry in the kitchen," Price said. "You can cook away these bacteria. But the problem is when you bring in that raw product, you almost inevitably contaminate your kitchen with these bacteria."

Washing hands and counters before and after handling meat and keeping other foods away from uncooked meat are ways to prevent disease from spreading, Price said. But consumer initiatives aren't going to solve the bigger problem, he said.

"To put it all on the consumer is really directing blame at the wrong end of the food chain," Price said. "The bacteria is always going to be there, but the reason why they're resistant is directly related to antibiotic use in food animal production."

Of all the types of meats where bacteria was resistant to three or more antibiotics in the study, turkey was the most resistant, followed by pork, beef and then chicken. Price said it's not clear why turkey was the most resistant.

USDA officials could not be reached immediately for comment.

(Additional reporting by Esha Dey in Washington)

(Editing by Jerry Norton and Peter Bohan)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (3)
Babyarm wrote:
One of the cattle farmers on the documentary Food, Inc. pointed out that they (the cattle farmers) noticed that these cattle were developing this type of bacteria when they used the corn-fed diet. Switched their diet & viola, no more of that antibiotic bacteria. I’m really surprised the FDA is letting this happen, after all, if cattle farmers are producing meat that’s resistant to the drugs their trying to push on people, how are they winning that battle? Of course the FDA wants people to be sick so they can make money from the big pharmaceutical companies, but if this renders the drugs useless then isn’t that a no win situation for the FDA?

Or maybe the FDA is looking into a way of engineering cattle to have the bacteria, just not resistant to the drugs to their trying to sell.

‘Food’ for thought.

Apr 15, 2011 2:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
JackV wrote:
Why not institute common sense rules, such as forbidding food producers from using the same types of antibiotics that consumers use “downstream”? That way the end users could count on the bacteria not being pre-exposed to the antibiotic and therefore potentially resistant. Or forcing rotation of antibiotics, or restricting their use to what’s essential? Aren’t there any regulations in place to minimize the risk?

Apr 15, 2011 2:58pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
PAMedia wrote:
How about feeding cattle what cows eat, and raising them properly in the first place, negating the need for antibiotics or hormones? Remember grass?

Stop CAFO subsidies unless & until they change their ways (which would make them non-CAFO), and remove the financial and other obstacles for those ranches that are producing healthy cattle and healthful milk & meat.

Apr 21, 2011 4:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.