The results of a study released last week conducted by researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix found that 47 percent of beef, chicken, pork and turkey samples were contaminated with Staphylcoccus aureus (S. aureus), a bacteria linked to illnesses ranging from mild skin infections to life-threatening diseases. Though the news media ran amok reporting this story, what they failed to underscore was the study’s very small sample size: only 136 samples of 80 brands of meat and poultry were tested from 26 retail stores in five U.S. cities.
Published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the authors noted that DNA testing suggests that the food animals themselves were the major source of S. aureus contamination, which “demands attention to how antibiotics are used in food-animal production today,” said Lance B. Price, director of TGen’s Center for Food Microbiology and Environmental Health.
"But the life-threatening resistant germs found, especially in hospitals, are derived from overuse of antibiotics in humans, not animals,” says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “And the S. aureus which contaminated these samples may well have come from any source between preparation and the investigators, not necessarily from the animals.”
He further notes that the study authors found that the bacteria was resistant to at least three classes of antibiotics, but “that description does not mean that the S. aureus are resistant to commonly used antibiotics, as is the case with methicillin-resistant S. aureus.
It should also be noted that food-borne illnesses have actually declined by 20 percent in the last decade, as documented by the CDC’s FoodNet system, and consumers should be aware that cooking meat and poultry thoroughly will kill all bacteria that may be present.