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U.S. Meat Supply Flying at Half Staph

An investigation finds 47% of U.S. retail meat tested is contaminated with staph (Staphylococcus) bacteria. Turkey appears most likely to harbor contagion.

November 21, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to UGA College of Ag.



May 2011 researchers published an investigation into the prevalence of the multi-drug resistant staph bacteria in the U.S. meat supply. Antibiotics are used extensively in food animal production for growth promotion and disease prevention due to the stressful, overcrowded, and unhygienic conditions in which they're often confined. Surveys conducted by NARMS, the CDC monitoring system “indicate that retail meat and poultry products are frequently contaminated with multidrug-resistant Campylobacter, Salmonella, Enterococcus, and E coli, but what about staph infections, which in people can cause everything from skin infections to pneumonia and meningitis?

Reseachers “collected and tested a total of 136 meat and poultry samples from 5 US cities, encompassing 80 unique brands from 26 grocery stores. They tested retail beef, chicken, pork, and turkey. Any guess as to which was most contaminated?

Staph “contamination was most common among turkey samples, followed by pork, chicken, then beef. Three quarters of retail turkey tested positive, and overall, 47% of U.S. retail meat…tested, was found contaminated with staph, and multidrug resistance was common.

Here are 18 different common clinical antibiotics used in human medicine across the top: important drugs, like erythromycin, penicillin, ampicillin. ceftriazone, And then going down, these are some of the staph bacteria they found in turkey, pork, chicken and beef. Orange means intermediate resistance to the antibiotic, red means complete resistance, and black is multidrug resistant to 3 or more classes of antibiotics. These bugs were not from from some hospital ICU but right off the grocery store shelves.

Conclusion: “Conventional concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or so called factory farms) provide all the necessary components for the emergence and proliferation of multidrug-resistant zoonotic, or animal-to-human pathogens. In the United States, billions of food animals are raised in densely stocked CAFOs, where antibiotics are routinely administered in feed and water for extended periods to healthy animals. The CDC has shown that multidrug-resistant E. coli and Enterococcus species are prevalent among US meat and poultry products. Our findings indicate that multidrug-resistant Staph aureus should be added to the list of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that routinely contaminate our food supply.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Peter Mellor.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them.

Check out the accompanying blog posts for more context: Talking Turkey: 9 out of 10 retail turkey samples contaminated with fecal bacteriaWhy is it Legal to Sell Unsafe Meat?, Treating an Enlarged Prostate With Diet, Bugs & Drugs in Pork: Yersinia and Ractopamine, and Probiotics and Diarrhea

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Check out the accompanying blog: Talking Turkey: 9 out of 10 retail turkey samples contaminated with fecal bacteria.

  • gfortcher

    In the future….Sociologists and anthropologists (and let me coin a new are of study called “nationologists”, since we as a nation seem to be so good at screwing up the food supply chain) are going to have a field day as they study our past habits, use, misuse and protocols surrounding what foods we shove into our mouths.

  • Susan Beterbide

    Well said gfortcher!

  • BPC

    An obvious follow up question is whether meat eaters are more likely to get sick from these pathogens and/or take longer to recover? Or did I miss the video proving that?


    Hi BCPveg,
    Try this video

    If we are at risk just being around these pathogens, allowing them into our system is asking for it! Russian roulette lifestyle!

  • Rita Butler

    Why do you not hear about what the CDC says about these situations? This is so sensational sounding you would think the news media would be all over it. But then the news writers would have to confront their own eating habits in light of such science. Guess they don’t want to.