When I wrote my guides to conventional beef (One, Two, and Three), I looked at data reporting on residues of hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, and pesticides in conventional beef, but I did not find any information about microbial counts in meat from animals raised in conventional confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Now it looks like I have to add multiple-antibiotic resistant (MAR) bacteria to the list of likely contaminants of conventional supermarket meats. Reuters reports that researchers have found that conventional grocery meat frequently has significant levels of bacteria resistant to antibiotics.
The Arizona-based Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGRI) tested 136 meat samples from 26 grocery stores in Illinois, Florida, California, Arizona and Washington D.C.. They found that the meat had high levels of Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), and more than half of the bacteria tested had resistance to multiple antibiotics.
"The study found that in 96 percent of the meats with staph bacteria the bacteria were resistant to at least one type of antibiotic, and 52 percent were resistant to three or more types. "
"Of all the types of meats where bacteria was resistant to three or more antibiotics in the study, turkey was the most resistant, followed by pork, beef and then chicken. "While you can kill these bacteria easily by cooking the meat properly, you also can spread these bacteria by handling the meat then other foods or objects. You can prevent the spread of these microbes by washing hands and counters before and after handling meat and keeping other foods away from uncooked meat.
Apparently the FDA knows about this:
A spokeswoman for the Food and Drug Administration said that the agency was aware of the TGRI findings, and similar studies of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meats, and was working with the U.S. Agriculture Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the causes and effects.To give the foot-dragging bureaucrats a leg-up on this problem, I can think of two well-documented main sources for these bacteria: 1) treated (drinking) water containing multiple-antibiotic resistant (MAR) bacteria may be used to wash meat products in meat-processing facilities, and 2) confined animal feeding operations. When you confine animals and hold large numbers in close quarters, while feeding them a grain-based, inappropriate diet, you create a breeding ground for infectious microbes.
"FDA has been monitoring the situation. The TGRI study points out that the public health relevance of the findings is unclear. FDA continues to work with CDC and USDA to better understand this issue," the FDA spokeswoman said.
Simply put, we could stop directly or indirectly subsidizing pharmaceutical houses and corn-based animal feeding operations, which would save taxpayers money, reduce federal deficit spending, and make drug-laced CAFOs uneconomical compared to drug-free pasture-based operations. This would encourage the growth of pasture-based animal operations, which when properly managed can reverse desertification and produce animal products of superior nutritional value in terms of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. The land, animals, and people will all be healthier as a result.
While the FDA et al go about taking their time "to better understanding this issue," it appears you can reduce your exposure to these microbes by implementing these strategies:
1. If eating conventional meats, eat less turkey and pork compared to beef and chicken. Previously I have recommended pork over chicken because pork has a better fatty acid profile than chicken (less omega-6), but now appears that pork presents a greater microbial hazard. Hence you may want to choose chicken over pork, and remove the chicken skin to minimize omega-6 intake.
2. Consider buying meat frozen or freezing it after purchase, because freezing can reduce microbial concentrations by up to 97-99%.
3. Eat more whole cuts of meat and less ground meat, since ground meats may have bacteria in them whereas whole cuts will generally only have bacteria on the outside surfaces.
4. Wash your hands and counters after handling uncooked conventional meats.
5. Cook conventional meat adequately.
6. Whenever possible, get grain-fed meats from animals raised without antibiotics. You can get them from local farmers, butcher shops, and some 'natural' markets. In Arizona, Sprouts Market and Sunflower Market both sell grain-fed meats from animals raised without antibiotics. Animals raised without antibiotics very likely have lower counts of antibiotic-resistant microbes.
7. When economically practical, buy meat directly from farmers who raise their animals without antibiotics on pasture or species-appropriate diets.