Drug-resistant bacteria found in half of U.S. meat

Welcome to the staph aisle? A study published April 15, 2011 found drug-resistant bacteria in nearly half of all samples of beef, pork, and poultry from U.S. supermarkets. AP

A new study finds that much of meat and poultry sold in supermarkets is contaminated with drug-resistant staph bacteria.

Researchers bought beef, chicken, pork, and turkey in five U.S. cities and found that nearly half of the meat sampled -- 47 percent -- contained drug resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus.

The "staph" bacteria is linked to a range of health problems from rashes and respiratory ailments to potentially fatal illnesses such as sepsis and endocarditis. Due to overexposure, staph bacteria have grown resistant to an ever-widening range of the antibiotic drugs used to fight them; Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA has become a deadly scourge in U.S. hospitals.

But there is perhaps no greater contributor to the rise of drug-resistant staphs than the meat industry, where animals are preemptively treated with a range of antibiotics.

The April 15 study in the medical journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases" was conducted by Translational Genomics Research Institute.

Among the staph-contaminated samples, more than half were resistant to at least three types of antibiotics.

Experts note that staph bacteria can be killed by thoroughly cooking meat, but improper handling and cross-contamination -- such as by reusing a cutting board or knife that has come in contact with the raw meat -- can still lead to infections.

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