RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Previous studies have detected nasty, food-poisoning bacteria in supermarket meat, but a study published Friday in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases sends the queasiness factor to a whole new level: Half of the U.S. supermarket meat sampled contained staph infection bacteria, including the hard-to-kill and potentially lethal MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection.
THE DETAILS: Researchers tested 136 total samples (80 different brands) of ground beef, chicken breasts and thighs, ground pork and pork chops, and ground turkey and turkey cutlets purchased from 26 retail grocery stores in five U.S. cities: Chicago; Washington, DC; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Los Angeles; and Flagstaff, Arizona. Although previous studies have found a strong link between antibiotic-resistant germs and factory farms, this study traces the dangerous bacteria into the food chain. Nearly 80 percent of the turkey products sampled contained staph bacteria; 42 percent of the pork harbored staph, while 41 percent of the chicken and 37 percent of the beef suffered staph contamination. Nearly all of the contaminated meat harbored staph bacteria resistant to at least one human antibiotic.
WHAT IT MEANS: At the end of 2010, the Food and Drug Administration released a first-of-its-kind agency report, finding that factory farms use a whopping 30 million pounds of antibiotics each year. But even before the release of that report, scientists and doctors had been waving red flags regarding the overuse of antibiotics in farming, and how that, in turn, is threatening human health. In 2009, Prevention magazine published a special report, "The Superbug in Your Supermarket," which found similar problems with your standard supermarket-bought meat. While MRSA was previously linked to hospital-acquired infections, a new source emerged in 2008, and it was linked back to huge hog farms. The good news is that cooking meat kills MRSA. The bad news is just handling the raw meat can give you a serious skin infection, particularly if you have a cut on your hand. And nose pickers, take heed. Wash your hands well after handling meat because MRSA loves to hang in your nasal passages.
Find out more about how to protect yourself from superbugs in food.
• Steer clear of CAFO meats. CAFO stands for concentrated animal-feeding operation, a nicer word for factory farm. These industrial facilities often use antibiotics to speed growth and prevent disease in their crammed conditions, which is what scientists say accelerates the rise of superbugs. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that industrial farms account for 70 percent of the antibiotics used in this country. That heavy use is making vitally important antibiotics work less well on humans.
To find safer forms of meat, check out our Guide to Buying Grass-Fed Beef, or visit LocalHarvest.org or EatWild.com to find organically raised, pastured meat. It's likely more expensive, but it's also more nutritious. If you're strapped for cash, pastured eggs from hens that ate organic feed is a great option—way cheaper than buying four grass-fed Porterhouse steaks!
• Practice nontoxic, commonsense food safety. No matter where your food comes from, it's always in your family's best interest to practice good food-safety advice. However, don't turn to toxic antibacterial soaps and sprays to disinfect. They're also linked to the rise in superbugs. These stories contain safer alternatives:
Published on: April 15, 2011
Updated on: April 17, 2011