April 15, 2011

Large Portion Of US Meat Supply Contaminated

In a sampling of grocery store meat in five US cities, one-quarter of retail supplies of beef, turkey, pork and chicken revealed that it was hiding some type of drug-resistant bacteria, AFP reports.

The study, released Friday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, uncovered bacterial strains present in the samples. Found in 47 percent of the samples was Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can cause skin infections, pneumonia, sepsis or endocarditis in people with weak hearts.

The 136 samples that were tested included 80 brands of meat and were taken from 26 retail grocery stores in Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff, and Washington DC. The bacteria was found inside the meat, the report claims, and therefore was not likely to have come from handling of the food itself.

The study points a finger at, "densely-stocked industrial farms, where food animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics... ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans."

An even tougher strain of S. aureus was found in 52 percent of sampled food that was resistant to at least three types of antibiotics. S. aureus is not among the four bacteria routinely tested for by the US government. Only Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and Enterococcus are under scrutiny at this time.

Cooking would normally kill off such bacteria. However, contamination can occur when handling raw meat in the kitchen, touching utensils, or even from eating meat that is not fully cooked.

"For the first time, we know how much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staph, and it is substantial," said Lance Price of the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and senior author of the study.

Hundreds die from contracting these strains and more than 2 million in the US alone are infected annually. Most at risk are the young and the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

"The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today," Price continued.

"Antibiotics are the most important drugs that we have to treat Staph infections; but when Staph are resistant to three, four, five or even nine different antibiotics -- like we saw in this study -- that leaves physicians few options."

"Now we need to determine what this means in terms of risk to the consumer," said co-author Paul Keim, director of the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University.


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