Bacteria that are immune to antibiotics are in your grocery store and kitchen right now, meaning that you are at risk for a unique form of food poisoning.
The microbes can cause illness and even death. But there?s also the danger that when the microbes mix with other bacteria in your kitchen or inside your intestines, they could share their resistance to drugs with more benign bacteria, causing them to become immune to treatment, as well.
Bacteria can develop drug resistance in the environment, in hospitals, and within a person who is being treated with antibiotics. But the way farm animals are raised plays a large part in this problem, according to Burke Cunha, of Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York. ?The volume of antibiotics used in animal feeds equals or exceeds that used to treat infections in humans,? he writes in an article in the British medical journal Lancet. ?Many of the antibiotics that have been used to supplement animals feeds are the very ones most likely to induce resistance.? If livestock develop resistant bacteria, it can taint meat or foods exposed to the animals? waste.
Several cases of this were reported at the recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Orlando, Florida. Michael Teuber of the Swiss Federal Research Institute in Zurich found normally harmless bacteria in salami that were resistant to 5 common antibiotics. In lab tests, the salami?s bacteria easily donated their resistant genes to other bacteria.
When Teuber?s group examined salami in the U.S., they found no bacteria because the meat had been sterilized during production. However David Wagner of the FDA found the same kind of bacteria in raw meat from local supermarkets. To rule out the spread of bacteria inside the store, his team examined only factory-packaged meat. Bacteria turned up in 67 percent of the chicken, 34 percent of the turkey and 66 percent of the beef. At least some of the microbes in each sample proved resistant to multiple antibiotics, although not necessarily to the same combinations of drugs.
The poultry was resistant to more drugs than the beef. 70 percent were immune to penicillin and 39 percent to streptomycin. Both beef and poultry showed high rates of resistance to tetracycline. These are some of the most commonly used antibiotics, and eating these foods could mean that, should you get sick, these drugs might not work for you.
Last year, Shaohua Zhao of the FDA tested for antibiotic-resistant bacteria in imported foods other than meat, such as fresh and frozen seafood, parsley and cheese. The rate was highest in imports from developing countries.
?We like to think that our food supply is perfectly safe and I think it can be if we address the problem more aggressively,? says Stuart Levy of Tufts University in Boston. ?But that is going to take time and additional funds from the state and federal governments.?
Meanwhile, he recommends that you cook foods to high temperatures and thoroughly wash all raw foods, as well as carefully cleanse all cutting boards and counters.
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