Special Report: Is MRSA Infiltrating Our Meat?

CONTACT: Karen Mazzotta, 212.808.1660, karen.mazzotta@rodale.com

Bethridge Toovell, 212.573.0214, bethridge.toovell@rodale.com

Lauren Paul, 212.297.1518, lauren.paul@rodale.com

– Antibiotic-Resistant Super Germs May Be Lurking in America’s Supermarkets –
Expert: “We Have an Impending Crisis”

July 8, 2009-New York, NY-A potentially deadly new strain of antibiotic-resistant microbes may be widespread in our food supply, according to a special report in the August issue of Prevention, on newsstands today and online at prevention.com/superbug. Americans are increasingly contracting a dangerous form of staph bacteria called MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant infection that is difficult to treat and kills 18,000 Americans per year–more than die from AIDS. Now, these aggressive bacteria are appearing in retail cuts of pork, chicken, and beef around the world. “If we don’t fix this, mortality rates will go much higher,” warns Karen Steuer, director of government operations for the Pew Environment Group. “We have an impending crisis.”

In 2008, researchers at the University of Iowa studied two large Midwestern hog farms and found a new strain of MRSA in 45% of farmers and 49% of pigs, reports Prevention. However, the federal government has not yet put a comprehensive MRSA inspection process in place, nor have they begun to collect data on outbreaks or test on farms. The CDC acknowledged the presence of MRSA in meat but downplayed the danger. The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System tests just 400 retail cuts of meat each month for four drug-resistant bacteria–which do not include MRSA.

Most people wouldn’t consider themselves to have as close contact with meat as a hog farmer or meat processing plant worker, but scientists warn there is reason for concern for the general public. As people handle raw meat daily-breading chicken cutlets, trimming fat from pork, or forming chopped beef into burgers-there is an ever-present chance of introducing MRSA into the body. Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief of Prevention, explains, “Cooking kills the microbe, but MRSA thrives on skin, so you can contract it by touching infected raw meat when you have a cut on your hand or if you touch your nose after touching meat.”

To reduce the risk of possible exposure to MRSA in meat, Prevention recommends the following:

· Look for the USDA organic seal. Organic meat might be less likely to have antibiotic-resistant or disease-causing organisms, as the animal hasn’t been fed antibiotics, hormones to promote growth, or animal by-products. Other labels, such as “no antibiotics added,” are not verified by independent testing.

· Log on to eatwellguide.org. Search for listings of stores and restaurants that offer no-antibiotic-use, grass-fed, or organic meats.

· Stock up on nonmeat protein sources. Swap beans, lentils, and tofu for meat now and then.

· Wash your hands. Use hot, soapy water before and after you prep meat. Never touch raw meat and then your nose, as MRSA thrives on skin and in nasal passages.

· Keep scrapes and cuts covered. Use waterproof bandages or rubber gloves to protect cut openings from MRSA and other pathogens, which often serve as entry points for the diseases.

· Clean cutting boards and utensils. Anything that comes in contact with raw meat should be cleaned with hot, soapy water to avoid cross-contamination.

· Make it well done. Thoroughly cooking your meats will kill MRSA and other bacteria. For pork and beef, the internal temperature should be 170 F; for chicken, 165 F.

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