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By: Tony Flood   Date: 4/18/11

Many of you may have likely heard of the recent study that looked at multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus in U.S. meat and poultry.  The study researchers found 47% of the samples tests were contaminated with S. aureus.  The study also indicated that fifty-two percent (52%), were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.  We spoke to Mike Doyle, PhD of the University of Georgia to see what had to say about this study, Staphylococcus aureus and most importantly food safety.

Experts Review

While this issue is not new for a number of food safety experts and researchers, what’s receiving unnecessary concern is that a large percentage of meat and poultry products testes were contaminated with S. aureus.  Not only do most domesticated animals harbor S. aureus, but about 50% of normal, healthy human adults also carry S. aureus in their nasal cavity, and the rate among children is somewhat higher.  That’s right; we harbor S. aureus in our bodies.  Many of the S. aureus strains found in animals are actually originate in humans.

From a food safety perspective, large numbers (greater than a million per gram) of S. aureus must be present to produce toxins in food that might make anyone sick.  Meat and poultry are commonly contaminated with S. aureus but at less than 100 cells per gram – that’s a very small amount.  Another point raised by the investigators was the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant S. aureus in meat and poultry.

According to the study, only three isolations of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) were made, which is the S. aureus of principal concern for hospital-acquired infections.  Experts agree, there is no evidence that the other "antibiotic-resistant" isolates are a public health concern because the antibiotics used for treatment of S. aureus infections should be effective against most of them.  While experts believe more research is needed to assess the potential of MRSA in foods, the CDC states there are currently no data to suggest that MRSA can be transmitted from meat consumption or even meat handling.

Bottom Line
Here’s what you can do in the absence of any clear evidence of risk to your health and the health of others . . .

Using practical and good food handling procedures will reduce the risk of transferring S. aureus from meats to humans.  This includes washing hands after handling meat, avoiding cross-contamination of meat juices and food contact surfaces with ready to eat foods such as salads, and properly cooking meat according to USDA recommendations.

Q&A:  Animal Antibiotics, Antimicrobial Resistance and Food Safety
Consumer’s Guide to Food Safety


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