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Kimberly Egan

Quality Insider

Tastes Like Chicken

With a side of bacteria

Published: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 11:05

FDA’s latest Annual Meat Report is out. It analyzes food-borne bacteria in retail meat, particularly Salmonella, Campylobacter, Enterococcus, and E. coli. Salmonella causes typhoid. Campylobacter causes spontaneous abortions in animals and opportunistic infections in humans. Enterococcus can cause meningitis. E. coli is the most common source of food poisoning.

Suffice to say, the news is bad.

The number of antibiotic resistant microbes in retail meat is going up, not down. More than half of all retail meat (55.7%) test positive for E. coli. Contrary to popular belief, pork chops have the lowest prevalence (30.4%), and ground turkey has the highest (76.7%). In fact, pork and beef came out rather well in this report, relatively speaking, compared to retail chicken and ground turkey. Chicken and turkey do so badly, in fact, that it is amazing anyone eats retail poultry at all.

The report also analyzes the extent to which these food contaminants are resistant to antibiotics, and assigns p values to measure statistical significance. In other words,  the FDA made sure its findings are real and not the result of chance.

FDA meat report findings

More than a third (33.5%) of the contaminants in retail chickens and almost a fourth (22.4%) of those in ground turkey are resistant to third-generation cephalosporins. Third-generation cephalosporins are supposed to be effective against hospital-acquired infections, pneumonia, and meningitis.

Almost half (40.5%) of contaminants in retail chickens and more than half (58.4%) of those in ground turkey are resistant to ampicillin. Ampicillin is supposed to be effective against staph infections, strep, and the flu. The FDA says the change in ampicillin resistance in turkey from 2002 to 2011 is a “highly statistically significant” result.

Tetracycline resistance in poultry is up. Tetracycline combats cholera. More bad news.

Gentamicin resistance in retail chicken and turkey is higher than that in beef and pork, or 20 percent compared to 5 percent. We use gentamicin to fight staph infections, along with the pathogens found in decomposing animal matter, sewage, manure soil, and human and animal feces.

On the theory that the truth will set you free, we can expect the FDA to do something about this, right? No. Prediction: All the FDA will do is write more reports and approve evermore powerful antibiotics for animals.

Makes you a little sick to the stomach, doesn’t it?

This article first appeared on the AssurX blog and is used by permission.


About The Author

Kimberly Egan’s picture

Kimberly Egan

Kimberly Egan is a litigation and regulatory lawyer with a background in pharmaceutical and medical device litigation and advice, Consumer Product Safety Commission work, food safety counseling and litigation, and commercial and mass tort litigation. Her food work has included risk-management planning and strategic assessments related to obesity claims, litigation analyses in connection with an acquisition of a company manufacturing dietary supplements, advice on FDA’s food additive and food contact regulations, advice on FDA’s Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) regulations, and general advice on food safety issues, product recalls, and supply-chain rationalization. She is a regular contributor to the AssurX blog.


food borne bacteria

Brings us back to the irradiation of foods to destroy the harmful bacteria, doesn't it?  This is especially for the drug resistant types, maybe UV would work too.  The main point is to clean up the environment of the raising of th echickens an turkeys.  Maybe the FDA says thet is the FHA's problem and passes the buck, so to speak.  Maybe even the consumer should have a private uranium source to sterilize the foods.

Something should be done, but just as it is in manufacturing, the quality goes in at the design stage and early in the manufacturing, not at the end of the production line.  It would be cheaper in the long run to do something at the head than to suffera massive recall, which costs in lost profits and reputation.  As an example the Rolaids company has sold its trademark name in lieu of coming back after its recall and lost reputation.


Sad words of wisdom, dear Mrs. Egan: Mrs. Anna Bartolini, an italian food biologist, member of a number of EU and Italy Committees on food safety, author of books on safe food, and a fighter herself, resigned from all the Committees she was member of, because her warnings were not listened to, let alone acted upon. All the Committees wanted from her were exactly "reports". I've been myself working in the food business for a number of years, and it's sad to see that, despite any HACCP-based prevention opportunities, even the high-flying food organizations shut the stable gates when the oxen are gone. Thank you.