Last week ScienceDaily.com reported that 47% of supermarket meat samples of beef, chicken, turkey and pork were contaminated with Staph aureus, and of half of those Staph aureus strains were antibiotic resistant Staph bacteria.
DNA testing of the Staph suggests the majority of the Staph contamination originates from the animals and not people. This was the first ever national meat supply assessment looking for Staph aureus, the bacteria responsible for MRSA, and it was published in the journal of Clinical Infectious Disease.
Is the livestock industry to blame for MRSA?
These results don’t surprise me. Factory farming of beef, poultry and hogs is how most meat is produced and how it ultimately reaches your dinner table. While farmers found that cramming animals into confined spaces reduced their costs and created cheaper food, it also created more sickly and unhealthy animals that need antibiotics. On top of that, much of the antibiotic use isn’t even to treat sick animals. Antibiotics are fed to help feed animals grow faster and eat less food.
- Did you know that 70% of all antibiotics used in United States are fed to livestock? That figure is according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
- The FDA estimated about 29 million pounds of antibiotics were given to feed animals in 2009. 29 million pounds per year… Think about that.
Antibiotics are used in their water, in their feed. Their manure is often spread onto soils as fertilizer. Guess what. Antibiotic resistant Staph and other bacteria then “teach” the bacteria living in the soil and water the secrets to stopping antibiotics. Heck, we even have soil bacteria now that can survive by eating antibiotics. Do you see a problem here? I sure do.
The USDA has admitted that antibiotic use in feed animals does lead to some amount of antibiotic resistance in people and livestock. The FDA has also been starting to move on curbing the use of antibiotics in feed animals (finally). Europe has been way ahead of the US in many aspects of this problem. In 2006, the European Union banned the use of antibiotics in livestock for growth promotion purposes, in an effort to help keep antibiotics effective for people.
Overcrowded livestock fed a constant diet of antibiotics are the ideal breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria. And because Staph and MRSA is contagious, the meat may become an easy route for infection transmission.
How do you protect yourself?
This study highlights the need for Staph and MRSA infection control in your kitchen, especially if you have a history of infections. One of the best ways to protect yourself from bacteria in meat is to keep raw meat (and its juices) away from other foods, surfaces, containers, utensils, and storage areas in your kitchen. You don’t want bacteria contaminating other foods or objects.
And keep your meat refrigerated until it’s time to cook it. Staph and MRSA can produce toxins that will make you ill with food poisoning when ingested. These toxins can form when meat is left out at warmer temperatures. The toxins survive the cooking process, even when the bacteria are killed.
If you have any cuts or breaks in your skin on your hands, use gloves when handling raw meat. This will prevent any bacteria getting into those cuts and causing infection. It may not be a bad idea to use gloves when handling raw meat. This will help prevent any live Staph bacteria from reaching your skin, where Staph can colonize and live.
It’s also more important than ever to sanitize your kitchen surfaces regularly, and wash your hands often when handling raw meats. Sanitize and wash your cutting board and anything else that has touched raw meat immediately after use.
You should replace kitchen sponges at least weekly, or soak them thoroughly and microwave them on high for 2 minutes to kill off most of the bacteria on them. Be sure to use healthy and effective washing and sanitizing agents as most contain antibacterial chemicals that can weaken your immune system over time and can also promote antibiotic resistance. And also avoid the problems associated with antibacterial soap products.
Keep natural antibiotics handy for addressing cuts and scrapes and preventing infection. I always keep my Tea Tree and other medicinal grade essential oils on hand. It’s easier to prevent infections than stopping infections. Also, consider eating meat from farms that do not routinely use antibiotics for growth promotion (see more below).
Is this cause for alarm?
This study is a good wake up call, but there’s no cause for alarm or for taking extreme measures. Raw meat has long been known to potentially harbor E. coli, Salmonella and other pathogenic bacteria. And many other raw foods, such as packaged spinach, mass produced eggs and some fruit juices have also been in the news lately because of bacterial contamination. And you naturally come into contact with all kinds of bacteria every day in your home, at work and in the community.
Aside from using proper food handling precautions, your immune system works to protect you from harmful bacteria. It’s your first line of defense against infections. One of the best things you can do is maintain a healthy immune system. This is the key to overcoming recurring infections, and it’s also the key to enjoying your life and not living in fear of day to day bacteria.
If your immune system is weakened, if you have a history or Staph or MRSA, or if you have an active infection or any open wounds, wear latex or rubber gloves when handling raw meat as a precaution. This will help prevent any bacteria like Staph from entering through openings in your skin, a common way Staph causes infection. Even rashes and small scratches on your skin are easy routes for bacteria to enter.
Bottom line, be smart and use common sense. Use gloves if necessary when preparing raw meat. As always, handle your raw meat with caution and keep it separate from other foods. Keep it refrigerated until use. Cook it appropriately and you should be fine.
The last thing we should do
Some people lobbying in Washington DC want to irradiate your beef to reduce bacteria. This Band-aid approach does nothing to address the actual problem at hand. Irradiating beef may also create unanticipated health problems for the people who eat the meat.
How you can make a difference
I believe that crowded, stressed, and drugged animals produce foods that are more contaminated, less nutritious and poorer in taste. I eat antibiotic-free or organic meats and poultry. Another great option is to find a local source for your meat and poultry like a health food store or local farm. Talk to the owner and find out how they manage antibiotics and their animals.
If you’re not near a farm or health store, go online. You can find sources that will ship frozen antibiotic-fee meat or poultry to you. Of course, organic or grass-fed quality meats and poultry do not guarantee the absence of pathogenic or antibiotic resistant bacteria, however these farm are typically conscious about the over-use of antibiotics and want to raise happier and healthier livestock.
You get to choose where you buy your meat, milk, eggs and produce. While higher quality foods generally cost more, I think it’s worth the added nutrition, quality and peace of mind. And you are helping reduce antibiotic resistance by choosing farms who use minimal or no antibiotics. Your choices can change the whole meat production industry to reduce this problem at the source.
As consumers, the more antibiotic-free meat and poultry you buy, the more the market will naturally change to accommodate you as a discerning, informed consumer.
To your best health,
Microbiologist and Natural Health Expert
US Meat and Poultry Is Widely Contaminated With Drug-Resistant Staph Bacteria Study Finds. Science Daily April 15, 2011. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110415083153.htm
Multidrug-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus in US Meat and Poultry, Clin Infect Dis. (2011) April 15, 2011, http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/04/14/cid.cir181.full
Nationwide study finds U.S. meat and poultry is widely contaminated, Multi-drug-resistant Staph found in nearly 1 in 4 samples, review shows, April 15, 2011, The Translational Genomics Research Institute. www.Tgen.org.
FDA, 2009 SUMMARY REPORT on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, http://www.fda.gov/downloads/ForIndustry/UserFees/AnimalDrugUserFeeActADUFA/UCM231851.pdf
USDA says antibiotic use in livestock is negatively affecting humans, August 02, 2010 by: Ethan Huff, www.naturalnews.com/029337_antibiotics_livestock.html
European Union Bans Antibiotics for Growth Promotion, Union of Concerned Scientists, 2006, http://www.ucsusa.org/food_and_agriculture/solutions/wise_antibiotics/european-union-bans.html
Antibiotics in Agriculture, State Environmental Resource Center, http://www.serconline.org/antibiotics/fact.html