A meat-free diet sounds better than ever, following the latest news about the pervasiveness of drug-resistant staphylococcus bacteria in U.S. meat and poultry. Forty-seven percent of 136 meat and poultry samples from 26 supermarkets in five states contained staph, half of it resistant to antibiotics, in a study released April 15th. A principal source of the antibiotic resistance was the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, researchers said.
Contamination of meat, poultry and eggs due to e.coli or salmonella is pretty common, as can ben seen on USDA's recall list. What's scary about the recent findings is, one, the staggering 50 percent antibiotic-resistant figure, and, two, it's staph.
Staph can cause food poisoning, skin infections, blood poisoning and pneumonia. Treatment options are reduced when antibiotics don't kill the germs.The meat samples in the study included methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the hospital super bug responsible for many deaths.The staph in the met samples was also resistant to peniccilin, ampicillin, erythromycin, tetracycline, Cipro, Synergicide and Seraquin.
Skipping meat is perhaps the best way to reduce your risk of exposure to these bugs.
However, even vegans can be sickened by poor food handling and cross-contamination when unwashed hands, implements and surfaces are used to prepare both raw meat and produce. And, so long as antibiotics continue to be administered to animals to allow for overcrowding in disease-breeding factory farms, bacteria resistance will continue to spread in the environment, to the detriment of all.
What to Do?
1. Know where your food comes from. Buy local and/or certified organic, grass-fed animal products. Consumer Reports recommends buying organic and grass fed animal products-not because they're necessarily freer of contamination than regular meat, but because they are free of antibiotic residues that contribute to the development of resistant bacteria.
How to know if it's really grass-fed and antibiotic free? See my updated list of green and humane animal labels.
Buy from a trusted local source who gives assurances of sustainable practices and safe food handling. When food is traceable back to the source, the source is more likely to be accountable to consumers. Once a week, my husband walks to the Kapiolani Community College Farmers' Market, a mile and a half from our Honolulu home, and buys a local grass-fed meat from Chef Hardy Binscher, pictured here. The executive chef at Michel's, a bastion of fine farm-to-table Honolulu dining, Chef Hardy also grills fresh meat and sustainable fish burgers to order at his farmers' market booth. This week, it was shutome (Hawaii poll-caught swordfish, a "Best Choice") in papillote with Swiss chard, yum!
2. Chill it. After buying, take meat, poultry, fish and dairy straight home and refrigerate at 40 degrees until ready to prepare. Bacteria grow rapidly in warm animal products.
3. Handle with care. Before and after preparing meat, fish and poultry, wash hands in hot, soapy water. Wash knives, cutting boards, countertops and sink with more hot, soapy water to prevent cross-contamination of other foods. Here are more safety tips.
4. Cook thoroughly. When in doubt, use a thermometer in a roast. For internal temps needed to kill pathogens in meat, fish and poultry, seeFDA's food prep tip sheet.
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