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Nearly Half of U.S. Meat Tainted With Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Here’s something to think about the next time you stop by the meat counter at your local grocery store – there may be drug-resistant strains of bacteria lurking in that steak or chicken.

A study by the Translational Genomics Research Institute, found that Staphylococcus aureus – a bacteria that causes most staph infections including skin infections, pneumonia and blood poisoning – are present in meat and poultry from U.S. grocery stores at “unexpectedly high rates.”

Researchers found nearly half of the meat and poultry samples — 47 percent — were contaminated with S. aureus, and more than half of those bacteria — 52 percent — were resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics.

For the study, researchers looked at 136 samples involving 80 brands of beef, chicken, pork and turkey from 26 grocery stores in five cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Flagstaff and Washington, D.C.

"For the first time, we know how much of our meat and poultry is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant Staph, and it is substantial," Dr. Lance B. Price, senior author of the study and Director of TGen's Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health, said in a news release. "The fact that drug-resistant S. aureus was so prevalent, and likely came from the food animals themselves, is troubling, and demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today.”

According to the findings published in the journal Clinical Infectious Disease, “industrial farms, where food animals are steadily fed low doses of antibiotics, “are ideal breeding grounds for drug-resistant bacteria that move from animals to humans.”

"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," Price said.

Experts say although Staph can be killed with proper cooking, it still may pose a risk to people who handle food improperly, and cross-contamination in the kitchen.

Click here for more information from the Translational Genomics Research Institute.