On April 15th, 2011, CNN reports on the release of a study by the Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health at the Translational Genomics Research Institute, which indicates that 47 percent of meat and poultry samples they tested contained Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a common cause of infection in people. Furthermore, nearly half of the contaminated samples contained strains of Staph that were resistant to at least three antibiotics and as many as a half-dozen. The latter would include the dreaded MRSA infection.
Researchers tested 136 packages of chicken, turkey, pork, and ground beef under 80 different brands purchased at 26 grocery stores located in Los Angeles, Chicago; Washington D.C., Fort Lauderdale, and Flagstaff. The study also indicated a disparity in the susceptibility of different types of meat; strains resistant to three or more antibiotics were found in 79 percent of turkey, 64 percent of pork, 35 percent of beef, and 26 percent of chicken samples.
The variety and number of S. aureus strains found on the samples suggest that the livestock themselves may be the source of the bacteria, rather than the processing and packaging sequence. Medical News Today notes although US authorities routinely check meats and poultry for four different types of drug-resistant bacteria, the checks do not include S. aureus. CNN news video embedded below:
CNN notes that the study has just been published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. It does not yet show up on their website; when it does, it's likely you'll have to pay to read the full study, since they generally only make the abstracts available for free. Medical News Today offers a few more snippets.
The L.A. Times reveals the meat industry's response to this report. The American Meat Institute issued a news release saying the nation’s meat and poultry supply is among the safest in the world. The association, representing red meat and turkey processors, took special issue with the size of the study: “It is notable that the study involved only 136 samples of meat and poultry from 80 brands in 26 retail grocery stores in five U.S. cities. This small sample is insufficient to reach the sweeping conclusions conveyed in a news release about the study.”
Consequently, the study should not particularly alarm people or cause them to go vegetarian. Furthermore, the dreaded MRSA is still rare. There are common sense techniques one can use to minimize any threat:
(1). Store meat properly. Minimal time from store to freezer. Refrigerate meat-based leftovers promptly.
(2). Cook thoroughly. The bigger the piece of meat, the more thoroughly it needs to be cooked. Use a meat thermometer for whole turkeys, chickens, and roasts. Health.com says the internal temperature of chicken and turkey should reach 165˚; steaks, 145˚; and hamburgers, 160˚.
(3). Wash hands thoroughly after preparation. Staph can exploit even small cuts on the body; if necessary, bandage cuts or wear disposable gloves on hands before preparing meat. Wash hands thoroughly afterwards. Don't forget that produce needs to be washed, too.
Two other useful sources of information:
-- Health.com: How to practice food safety in your home kitchen
-- Health.com: Eight ways to prevent food poisoning