Meatless Monday sounds like a better idea than ever, following the latest news about the pervasiveness of drug-resistant staphylococcus bacteria, including methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), in our meat and poultry.
In a study released Friday, 47 percent of meat and poultry samples from five supermarkets nationwide contained staph—half of it resistant to antibiotics. A principal source of the antibiotic resistance was the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, researchers said.
Contamination of meat, poultry, and eggs due to e.coli or salmonella is pretty common, as can be seen on USDA's recall list. But what's so scary about the recent findings is that staggering stat that 50 percent of them are resistant to antibiotics.
Staph can cause food poisoning, skin infections, blood poisoning, and pneumonia. Treatment options are reduced when antibiotics don't kill the germs. The meat samples in the study included MRSA, the hospital "super bug" responsible for many deaths. And even vegans can be sickened by poor food handling and cross-contamination.
What to Do? Follow this advice.
1. Know where your food comes from. Buy local and/or certified organic, grass-fed animal products. In an article about dangerous bacterial infections on the rise, Consumer Reports recommends buying organic and grass-fed animal products–not because they’re necessarily free of contamination, but because they are free of antibiotic residues that can lead to the development of resistant bacteria.
How to know if it’s really grass-fed? See my updated list of credible animal food labels.
Buy from a trusted local source who gives assurances of sustainable practices and safe food handling. Once a week, my husband walks to the Kapiolani Community College Farmers' Market, a mile and a half from our Honolulu home, and buys a local grass-fed meat from Chef Hardy Binscher. The executive chef at Michel's, a bastion of fine farm-to-table Honolulu dining, Chef Hardy also grills fresh meat and sustainable fish burgers to order at his farmers' market booth. This week, it was shutome (Hawaii poll-caught swordfish, a “Best Choice”) in papillote with Swiss chard!
2. Chill it. After buying, take meat, poultry, fish, and dairy straight home and refrigerate or freeze until ready to prepare. Bacteria grow rapidly in warm animal products.
3. Handle with care. Before and after preparing meat, fish, and poultry, wash hands in hot, soapy water. Wash knives, cutting boards, countertops and sink with more hot, soapy water to prevent cross-contamination of other foods. Also check out these safety tips.
4. Cook thoroughly. When in doubt, use a thermometer. For internal temps needed to kill pathogens in meat, fish and poultry, check out the FDA's food prep tip sheet.
Mindy Pennybacker is Whole Living’s “Econundrums” columnist. See her answers to reader questions and ask your own here. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.