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Antibiotic resistance and your food

Treating farm animals with antibiotics could pose a public health risk.  Farmers have been giving small doses of antibiotics to their animals for decades, but evidence suggests that giving animals too many antibiotics can contribute to the worsening health crisis of antibiotic resistance and the creation of deadly superbugs.

Why are antibiotics given to animals?

Animals in industrial-scale facilities are routinely fed antibiotics to:

  • make animals bigger
  • prevent the spread of diseases in animals
  • prevent transmission of diseases from animals to humans
  • improve survival of animals

But when antibiotics are overused, it can be detrimental to the public health.

The threat of antibiotic resistance

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 2 million illnesses and an estimated 23,000 deaths each year are the result of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance in animals occurs when they consume too many antibiotics and develop drug-resistant bacteria in their stomachs. These bacteria can then be passed from animals to humans when:

  • people eat meat that isn’t cooked properly
  • water is contaminated with animals feces and then used on crops
  • fertilizer containing contaminated animal feces is used on crops
  • farm workers handle contaminated animals feces

Once exposed, people may acquire superbugs and spread them to the community, or they may contract a drug-resistant illness that can be difficult to treat.

“We have very few, new antibiotics being introduced and manufactured when compared to the emergence of resistant bacteria or germs,” says Ayesha Faruqi, MD, MBBS, MPH, an infectious disease specialist at Piedmont. “If this situation is not well controlled now, we may lose this battle between germs and antibiotics, which could lead us to a crisis situation where we may not have any antibiotics left to combat resistant bacteria.”

How can you reduce your risk of infection?

You can reduce your risk of infection by following these safety tips:

  • Practice good hand hygiene.  Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after preparing meals, or after handling uncooked eggs, raw meat or poultry.
  • Clean kitchen surfaces and utensils. Wipe down kitchen surfaces with a paper towel or clean cloth and kitchen cleaner while cooking to prevent cross-contamination. For example, do not use the same sponge to clean up raw chicken juice and then wipe down your dining room table. Wash all utensils, cutting boards and dishes with hot, soapy water after prepping each food item.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables. Cut off damaged or bruised areas and wash produce under running water. Even if you decide to peel them, wash your fruits or vegetables first to prevent the spread of bacteria from the outside in.
  • Properly handle and cook meat, poultry and eggs. Always use separate plates for raw meat and cooked meat. Thaw food in the refrigerator, cold water or microwave. Cook meat, poultry and eggs all the way through at a temperature high enough to kill bacteria. Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours.

Should you try to purchase meat from suppliers who do not use antibiotics?

Some local farmers, and store chains like Whole Foods Market, do not contract with suppliers who use antibiotics in their animals. If an animal is treated with antibiotics when it is sick, its meat or eggs cannot be sold.

If you are concerned about the use of antibiotics in the meat you eat, do your research to find a local farmer or food supplier who sells antibiotic-free meat.

For more health and wellness tips, click here.

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