Meat Safety Questioned/Defended

Apr 19, 2011

A new study of meat and poultry sold in grocery stores by
the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) found that 47 percent
of samples tested  were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus and 52 percent
of those contained strains that were resistant to at least three classes of

The study analyzed 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey
from 26 grocery stores located in Chicago, Flagstaff, Fort Lauderdale, Los
Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Researchers suggested that food animals given
high doses of antibiotics were the major source of contamination.

"The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — including Staph —
remains a major challenge in clinical medicine," Paul Keim, Ph.D., director
of TGen’s Pathogen Genomics division  and director of the Center for Microbial
Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University (NAU), said in a press

"This study shows that much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with
multidrug-resistant Staph. Now we need to determine what this means in terms
of risk to the consumer," said Dr. Keim. 

"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," said
Lance Price, Ph.D., senior author of the study and director of TGen’s
Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health.

The meat industry was
quick to take issue with TGen’s methodology and findings.

According to an American
Meat Institute (AMI) press release, "Federal
data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show steady
declines in foodborne illnesses linked to consumption of meat and poultry overall
and indicate that human infections with Staphylococcus aureus comprise less
than one percent of total foodborne illnesses."

The AMI pointed to a white
paper by Ellin Doyle of the University of Wisconsin’s Food Research Institute,
which found Staph bacteria are found in half of all human nasal passages. Dr.
Doyle’s white paper noted that in the only two foodborne outbreaks of antibiotic
resistant Staph, food handlers and not the food source were to blame for the

Interestingly, the TGen research supports this last position noting
that Staph is usually killed with proper cooking. According to the authors, "it
may still pose a risk to consumers through improper food handling and cross-contamination
in the kitchen."

Discussion Questions: Do you believe that antibiotics are overused in meat and poultry production, as concluded by the TGen study? How should food retailers respond to the publicity surrounding the research?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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6 Comments on "Meat Safety Questioned/Defended"

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Fabien Tiburce
Fabien Tiburce
11 years 29 days ago

This has been going on for years and while some consumers are concerned (and have switched buying habits), I would say the vast majority are not. Of course the headlines are getting more alarmist and the incidence of food poisoning also seem on the rise. I would not be surprised to see a public figure like Oprah getting on this bandwagon and bringing awareness to this issue. If this happens, if a high-profile public figures gets involved, I think you will see manufacturers tackle the issue and come up with mainstream “antibiotic-free” product lines.

Ralph Jacobson
11 years 29 days ago

Simply put, there are over 76 million cases of food borne illness in the US, alone annually. We need to be diligent in the methods of food processing, transportation and storage that we utilize. New legislation may assist us in that, however it is truly up to the stakeholders in the food ecosystem that must hold responsibility.

Ryan Mathews
11 years 29 days ago

Of course antibiotics are overused which is precisely why it’s important to handle and prepare food correctly in the home.

The same overuse of certain drugs has produced resistant strains of diseases in people so why should we be surprised when the same is true in other animals?

The problem is that, without those drugs, the risk of food borne illnesses might be higher at least when you are talking about large scale commercial processing.

Caveat emptor is still the best advice.

Gene Detroyer
11 years 29 days ago

This is almost completely in the consumers’ hands. Consumers want cheap meat and lots of it. Manufacturers meet that demand with practices that are sociologically unhealthy. This is not a new issue. Check out the movie Food, Inc. Retailers have nothing to do with this practice other than give their shoppers what they want.

Fortunately, many shoppers are making changes and retailers are responding to offering alternatives, as a good retailer should. But, the real solution begs for government regulation. Unfortunately, regulation that would drive the cost of meat up and that would be totally unacceptable for the population and the politicians.

The future is not pretty except for those who develop new antibiotics that for a short time will be effective until the germs again morph to resistance.

Ben Ball
11 years 29 days ago
Consumer/media interest in this issue is both appropriate and alarmist. Of course any bacteria found in the meat of animals treated with antibiotics is more resistant to additional antibiotic treatment. And there are any number of reasons for humans to be concerned about the continued ability of science to find more powerful, and yet still safe, ways to kill these bacteria. But what are we/the media asking for here? Meat from animals that have not been treated with any antibiotic during their production cycle? Wait until you see what THAT will grow! As one who is involved in the production, processing, marketing and consumption of meat products from start to finish, I am convinced that our overall food safety is much greater with antibiotics than without. When this country was still a small-scale agrarian subsistence society, things were indeed different. But there was a reason food was cooked well-done–even cowboy beef steaks–and it was to kill the germs! Most steaks served in restaurants today would be very unsafe to consume if they were not cut… Read more »
Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
11 years 29 days ago

First of all, the report “suggests” that there may be a link between antibiotics in animals and the bacteria. Second, antibiotics are necessary to treat certain conditions. Third, I assume (but do not know for sure) that there may be overuse of antibiotics in animals as well as in humans. However, I can not draw the conclusion that the use of antibiotics should be banned. Examined? Monitored? Studied? Absolutely. With no specific data on overuse and/or connection to the increased bacteria, changing regulations would be premature.


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