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Meat Producers Respond

Food producers say their products are safe.

Staphylococcus aureus is a very common bacteria found in the environment, and is one of the most common found on human hands. It rarely causes any health problems,” says Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, director of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Turkey Federation in Washington, D.C., in a statement.

“Contamination by human hands is a likely source of contamination of the products in this study,” Thesmar says. “The most important message for consumers is to follow proper food safety methods, such as washing your hands and cooking meat and poultry thoroughly. Following good food safety practices will ensure that consumers continue to enjoy safe, high-quality, and nutritious turkey products.”

Others agree with that assessment.

Staph aureus is common in everything. It’s common in people. Something like 30% of people carry it in their nasal passages, and it’s on your skin. Finding that in food products wouldn’t have been anything out of the usual,” says Dave Warner, director of communications for the Pork Producers Council in Washington, D.C.

What the Study Found

For the study, researchers collected 136 meat and poultry samples from 26 grocery stores in five cities: Chicago; Washington, D.C.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Los Angeles; and Flagstaff, Ariz.

DNA testing confirmed the presence and specific types of S. aureus bacteria. The bacteria were exposed to antibiotics from different classes to determine which drugs could kill the germs and which could not.

Of all the meat types tested, turkey samples were the most frequently contaminated; 20 out of 26 samples (77%) tested positive for S. aureus. Turkey was also the most likely to have bacteria that couldn’t be killed by at least three classes of antibiotics; 79% of the turkey samples that tested positive for staph were multidrug resistant.

That compares to roughly 40% of pork, chicken, and beef cuts that tested positive for the bacteria. Of the positive samples of those meats, 64% of pork samples, 35% of beef, and 26% of chicken were multidrug resistant.

Three samples, or slightly more than 2%, tested positive for MRSA. The strains of MRSA identified in the study were resistant to antibiotics that have never been approved for food production, suggesting that the MRSA strains may have come from people who were handling the meat.

The study is published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

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