When you buy raw meat in the grocery store, what you're bringing home is often more than lunch.
"The opportunity for you to buy products that have been contaminated with drug-resistant bacteria is very high," said Dr Lance Price. Price is the Director of the Establishment of the George Washington University Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, a leading research laboratory at the Milken Public School of Public Health.
"We're raising 9 billion foodstuffs to kill and get into meat," said Price. "When we regularly give low doses of antibiotics, we only grow bacteria, drug-resistant bacteria, which can spread among those animals and then they will be distributed to every grocery store in the country."
It is estimated that 70 percent of antibiotics used in America are given to farm animals ending on your lunch plate.
"Food feed producers have to be careful in the way they use antibiotics," said Price. We can not only use them to prevent infections that they cause by raising animals in a way that makes them ill. We must raise animals in a way that encourages their health and then we do not need to use antibiotics. "
Last month, raw beef and chicken have been found to have contaminated with antibiotic salmonella in 36 countries. Millions of pounds of meat were recalled and hundreds of people were ill.
So, we thought how easy it would be to find resistant antibiotic bacteria if we were doing our own random sampling.
Turning out, very easy.
We bought two dozens of poultry from four large national retailers, ranging from chicken and chicken fat, ground turkey, turkey burgers and drum chests.
In one afternoon, each packed on ice was purchased, labeling, and packed and our educators handed over to Dr. Price.
The tests were done in two stages.
First, Dr. Price and the four most common bacteria to cause foodborne illness: E coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, and Campylobacter.
Then, they decided if the bacteria were resistant to antibiotics.
Two weeks later, the results were: 88 percent of samples were the result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And not just one type.
Combinations of E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus resist antibiotics anywhere between 2 and 17 times the sample. Drugs considered to be some of the most important ones on the planet such as Amoxicillin, Cipro and Tetracycline, were useless.
"Ninety percent, basically, of the samples that you gave us were positive for E. coli," said Price. "We're probably animal beans in each of those meat, but it's also an important typeogenic and when we look at what E. is a coli resistant, which is one of the" The drugs that were most resistant, or often resistant, tetracycline. What is the drug we use most often for the production of animals in the United States. "
Tetracycline is considered by the World Health Organization to become one of the most important antibiotics on the planet. Many other drugs that have been categorized as "critical" to people's health have failed in most of the tests against the bacteria we had on a grocery store meat.
And the laboratory found more than we expected.
"On three of the turkey samples, we found that Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA were resistant to Methicillin. I mean, that was stunning to me," said Price. "When they pass our skin, they can infect our blood. They can infect our hearts and kill us. At one time, it's still like today, MRSA kills more people than HIV in the United States. "
Price says that the problem with antibiotic resistant bacteria is that it exists everywhere in conventional meat production, making types of meat, brand names and shops irrelevant.
And the government is very aware of the problem.
Each year USDA is experiencing thousands of pieces of grocery store meat for antibiotic bacteria that are resistant to the National Anti-Resistant Resistance Monitoring System, or NARMS. The public ignores the data to a large extent.
"It's upset really, it's upset here, now we're seeing it. It's killing 23,000 Americans every year," said Dawn Undurraga.
Undurraga has analyzed more than 47,000 government bacteria laboratory tests on supermarket meat to the Environmental Working Group. That data was used to identify trends and effects on public health.
The latest report shows that 75 per cent of bacteria found in stores are antibiotic resistant, including 73 per cent of salmonella on earth turkey. Of the pork chicks the government was experiencing, 71 percent were positive for resistant antibiotic bacteria.
Cooking meat will totally kill the bacteria. But Price says that the bacteria usually spread well beyond the meat itself – from the goods truck in the store, all the way to your kitchen.
"So you're opening a pack of chicken," said Price. "You have a packaged contamination to deal with them, on the right? So you open the rubbish, that you contaminate. You're going to wash your hands, so turn on a faucet. You've just contaminated the faucet. You're going to pump the soap, contaminate it. You're going to wash your hands very well. You close the phone, re-contaminate your hands, get a salad, so it's easy to spread these bacteria to the kitchen. "
There is no dispute that antibiotic resistance is complex. Price says that four times give antibiotics more to farm animals than people, over-prescribing in the doctor's office contributes to the problem.
The drugs, some of which are now working, are all medical medical drugs depending on preventing haintion that can be treated before they become critical or even dead.
"This is a serious threat to public health," said Undurraga. "If we do not do something, we could go into an antibiotic stage where things like knee or pneumonia could scratch kill people again."
There is very little regulation in conventional animal agriculture to prevent the antibiotics regeneration industry, and to let individual companies make critical decisions about public health. Price says that the Obama administration has made significant progress on the issue – banning the practice of giving antibiotics to make animals grow faster, but the industry was found to work.
"Our antibiotics have been used to save life for years for decades to make animals grow faster," says Price. "But there is a huge gap that allows food producers to give animal antibiotics to prevent disease. And that's a big enough gap for 34 million pounds [of antibiotics to] go through. So, they raise animals in a way that makes them ill and then they justify the antibiotics. "
"We are sending a message to the world who says that this is fine," says Price. "And that's going to come back to feed us."
Statement by National Chicken Council:
"More than half of the chicken meat produced in the US is now being produced without the use of antibiotics. In accordance with FDA guidelines, only for prescription of a licensed vet receiving treatment and preventing disease in livestock, only under the prescription of a licensed veterinary surgeon, used on the farm, federal rules require antibiotics to clear the animal's systems before they are killed. For approved antibiotics, the Department Agriculture (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture have extensive monitoring and testing programs to ensure that food is a grocery store does not contain antibiotic residues.
"According to the latest FDA report, the number of Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken meat samples continues to fall, and both are at their lowest levels since NARMS has proven.
"Although we have made tremendous progress in reducing pathogens, raw chicken is not infective, and any raw agricultural product, whether its fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, meat or poultry is open to bacteria which occurs naturally that could make someone ill if it is treated or cooked inappropriately.
"We all play an important part in ensuring food safety for our families, and there are steps that people can take at home to significantly reduce any risk. For raw chicken, that is washing hands before and after connecting, not crossing contamination of other surfaces, cutting boards, knives, etc. and cooking chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165 F. Although bacteria can resist some antibiotics, Resist the appropriate heat of oven or grill. "
Statement by the Director of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs KatieRose McCullough, Ph.D., MPH at the North American Meat Institute:
"The basic fact that raw agricultural products such as poultry contain bacteria and we can reduce those bacteria to the lowest possible levels. The US Department of Agriculture data shows our efforts to reduce bacteria work and Centers for Disease Control data show that foodborne illness among people is also declining.
Just like people, animals sometimes need antibiotics and they are administered under veterinary supervision to ensure they are used appropriately. When antibiotics are given, removal periods are followed before the birds are processed to food. Applied appropriately by specialist veterinarians, antibiotics are very effective in destroying bacteria and securing animal health. But sometimes some bacteria survive and resist antibiotic. The good news is that resistant to one antibiotics does not mean that germ is resistant to all antibiotics.
Meat and poultry scientists are always working to develop the best possible strategies to target and destroy bacteria that can cause illness while maintaining the effectiveness of antibiotics. Although no foodborne illness is acceptable, the fact is that Americans eat billions of poultry every year and more than 99.99 per cent of those are consumed safely. The public should follow good safe handling and cooking practices and know that poultry companies are committed to providing products to the public that are as safe as we can do. "