Whether it’s super-sized beef burgers or classic fried chicken, Americans are big-time carnivores. But is what we're eating always safe? A new study estimates that 47% of the meat and poultry sold in American supermarkets contains Staphylococcus aureus, affectionately referred to as “staph,” a type of bacteria known to cause infection in humans. Sounds gross, right? Researchers tested almost 140 packages of various meats and poultry from 26 grocery stores in five cities throughout the country. And, even worse, almost half of the contaminated samples contained multi-drug-resistant strains of the bacteria.
This Is All Very Amoosing, But... — Analysis
But hold the phone! Before emptying the meat drawer and swearing off animal products for the next 30 years, take a closer look. Even the researchers clearly state that there is no clear public health concern. While they did find that supermarket meats are commonly contaminated with staph, it turns out bacteria is normal to find in many food products and doesn’t always scream “dangerous.”
Staph usually leads to skin infections, so the biggest risk might come from handling the infected meat. While these infections can sometimes be severe, they’re pretty easy to prevent. If cuts and scrapes are covered up plus hands and cooking surfaces are cleaned well after use and the meat is thoroughly cooked, the chance of any harm is slim. Phew. But where does this surprisingly innocuous problem stem from? Turns out the study also found evidence that suggests the bacteria doesn't come from the environment the beef was processed in, but, believe it or not, from the cows themselves. The combination of antibiotics given to farm animals to beef them up (pun intended) and prevent diseases with closely-packed cow corrals create a breeding ground for bacteria, which explains its presence within the actual animal meat. Still, despite some sensationalist headlines, there's relatively little to worry about.
Almost 50% of grocery store beef is infected with bacteria, but don’t swear off burgers because of it! Updated October 2011