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ATLANTA (CBS4) – A new study estimates nearly half of the meat and poultry sold at U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores is contaminated with a bacteria that can make you very sick. The bacteria is Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph, which is a common cause of infection in people.
Researchers tested 136 samples of ground beef, chicken, pork and turkey purchased from grocery stores in Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Flagstaff, Ariz.
In addition to finding the staph germ, half of the contaminated samples had a form of the bacteria that were resistant to at least three kinds of antibiotics, such as penicillin and tetracycline.
Proper cooking should kill the germs but the report suggests that consumers should be careful to wash their hands and take other steps not to spread bacteria during food preparation.
The meat was sold under 80 different brands and the study suggests that the livestock themselves, rather than contamination during processing and packaging, are the source of the bacteria.
The nonprofit Translational Genomics Research Institute in Arizona conducted the study. They say farmers and ranchers give millions of pounds of antibiotics to farm animals every year to make them grow faster and to prevent, rather than treat, diseases. Officials at the Arizona agency say the combination of bacteria, antibiotics, and livestock living in close quarters creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow and mutate, which may explain the high-levels of drug-resistant Staph seen in the study.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture currently monitor the country’s meat supply for evidence of four major types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (including Salmonella and E. coli). The study findings suggest that S. aureus should be screened for regularly as well, the researchers say.
(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)