Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Thrive in Supermarket Chicken

Bang the drumsticks slowly.
Bang the drumsticks slowly. Photo: iStockphoto

To get a sense of the kind of pathogens lurking inside America’s supermarket chicken meat, Consumer Reports tested samples from more than 300 chicken breasts — everything from Perdue to premium organic brands — and found 97 percent of the packaged chicken contained harmful bacteria. That includes everything from enterococcus to campylobacter to salmonella, all of which can cause illness. And while most of these bacteria are obliterated when chicken is cooked to 165 degrees, there’s always the risk of cross-contamination, something that makes the study’s detailed findings all the more troublesome.

Roughly half of all samples tested by the Consumer Reports crew “harbored at least one bacterium that was resistant to three or more commonly-prescribed antibiotics,” which satisfies the criteria for classification as antibiotic-resistant. Not only that, but 11.5 percent of the samples tested positive for at least two so-called superbugs. That’s a lot of microorganisms that could make people sick that do not respond to drugs.

The widespread presence of these bacteria have been linked to the rampant overuse of antibiotics throughout the factory farm system. They are typically administered to help foster the growth of large animals as quickly and cheaply as possible. And while the FDA just released a set of voluntary guidelines to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock, the Consumers Union, which is the policy arm of Consumer Reports, suggests there’s much more to be done. In a series of policy recommendations, it urges the FDA to prohibit all antibiotic use except to treat disease; ax a loophole that allows antibiotic use in eggs labeled “organic”; and classify and ban the sale of chicken meat infected with antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella. All of this, it suggests, should be done quickly.

And if all that seems a bit daunting, here’s another study that says that moderate drinking can boost your immune system. So at least cheers to that.

The high cost of cheap chicken [Consumer Reports]
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Related: FDA Moves to Reduce Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals Raised for Meat

Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Thrive in Supermarket Chicken