Welcome to post #5 in my “Is my food safe?” series! If you missed any of the others, you can find links and the webinar recording on this page.
Today we are discussing antibiotics. Why are they used in our animal products and how does that effect us??
Why Antibiotics are used?
Antibiotics are used in farming to prevent livestock from getting sick and dying. Without antibiotics animals could get sick and die and their meat, milk or eggs would never be part of the food supply.
Antibiotics are a tool used to keep livestock healthy so that they can be turned into quality protein for us.
Antibiotics in Food
Antibiotic residues are small amounts of antibiotics that are not fully absorbed. The U.S. National Residue Program works to prevent any amount of antibiotics from entering the food supply and being consumed by the consumer.
Meat poultry and eggs are tested for these chemical contaminants annually in the United States. This means that antibiotics that are used in food production don’t end up getting consumed when you eat an animal that is treated with antibiotics.
So then what is all the fuss about when it comes to antibiotics?
Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria becomes resistant to the antibiotics that are meant to kill them. The “stronger” bacteria will survive the antibiotic treatment and multiply- producing more “strong” and resistant bacteria.
Using antibiotics repeatedly can contribute to antibiotic resistance. These resistant bacteria can affect both livestock and people. If we get sick with bacteria, the bacteria causing the infection might already be resistant to the antibiotics prescribed by our doctors- so the infection could get a lot worse over time!
How can you get exposed to these bacteria?
- Direct contact with animals
- Exposure to animal manure
- Consuming undercooked meat
- Exposure to surfaces that have touched undercooked meat
Best practice when it comes to antibiotics is to use only when necessary. The best practice for livestock farmers would be to only use antibiotics when you have a sick animal and a veterinarian has prescribed antibiotics for the animal.
Even if an animal is treated with antibiotics, all meat, poultry and dairy foods sold in the U.S. are free of antibiotic residues, as required by federal law — whether or not the food is labeled “antibiotic free”.
Side note – for an animal to be sold as organic, it can never have been exposed to antibiotics. So if an animal in an organic production farm is treated with antibiotics, it must leave that herd and then be sold in the conventional market. Therefore if you prefer to consume animals that have never been treated with antibiotics in their whole lifetime, you can purchase organic meat.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day when it comes to antibiotics they aren’t something we need to worry about when we buy chicken at the grocery store or are sitting down to enjoy dinner. The topic of antibiotics has less to do with the effects of food on your body and more on a larger public health issue.
This is not to say that antibiotic resistance is not an important issue that we should all be aware of, but when it comes to the effect on your individual health the use of antibiotics on an animals that you consume is not the concern.
My advice to you is always make sure your meats are fully cooked and sanitize surfaces after they have been in contact with raw or undercooked meats so that you don’t get a bacterial infection!
-Julie & The Interns
P.S. I said this last time, but its important to remember- our food is the safest it has been! I want to emphasize that I trust the process of foods being sold in the US with all of the quality control measures set forth by the USDA and the DHHS (Department of Health and Human Services), which includes the FDA and the CDC.
For More Reading Check Out These Articles!
My article on antibiotics in milk: https://cancerdietitian.com/2021/07/choose-your-milk-hormones-antibiotics-and-pasteurization-part-1.html
Antibiotic / Antimicrobial Resistance, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/food.html
Residue Chemistry, from the USDA: https://www.fsis.usda.gov/science-data/data-sets-visualizations/residue-chemistry
Restrictions on Antibiotic Use, from the USDA https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2015/november/restrictions-on-antibiotic-use-for-production-purposes-in-us-livestock-industries-likely-to-have-small-effects-on-prices-and-quantities/