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Your Meat is Probably Packing Antibiotic Resistant Superbugs

Antibiotic resistant bacteria is rampant in grocery store meat, and it doesn't seem to be going away

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Photo: Stevemaher

From a report put out by the Food and Drug Administration in February, a scary note from the front lines of the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Looking at meat in the supermarket, the FDA found that around half of all ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef harbored antibiotic resistant bacteria says the New York Times. Almost all of the meat had Enterococcus bacteria, a family of microbes that has a high rate of antibiotic resistance and can cause urinary tract infections and other health problems. Chicken samples had antibiotic resistant salmonella and antibiotic resistant campylobacter, which cause food poisoning replete with diarrhea and fever.

High rates of bacteria on your meat isn’t really the issue, though. Everyone knows (or should know) to make sure their meat is cooked throughout, and to keep raw meat away from things that won’t be cooked.

The bigger problem, says the Times, is the rise seen in antibiotic resistant bacteria compared to previous years.

Of all the salmonella found on raw chicken pieces sampled in 2011, 74 percent were antibiotic-resistant, while less than 50 percent of the salmonella found on chicken tested in 2002 was of a superbug variety.

According to a big investigative story put together by health reporter Maryn McKenna and colleagues, the rise of antibiotic resistant e. coli carried by chickens could be behind the prevalence of urinary tract infections in American women, with one in nine women being affected each year.

The federal government’s report, says the Times, was largely ignored until a follow-up report was put out by the environmental lobby organization Environmental Working Group, and Applegate, a company that sells “organic and natural meats.”

“Public health officials in the United States and in Europe,” says the Times, warn that the over-use is antibiotics in agriculture is helping to drive the rise in resistance.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Blame Your Chicken Dinner for That Persistant Urinary Tract Infection

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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