Meat Safety Questioned/Defended
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."
- Nationwide study finds U.S. meat and poultry is widely contaminated – Translational
Genomics Research Institute
- Federal Data Show that U.S. Meat & Poultry Is Safe – American Meat
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?