How to Avoid Inviting ‘Superbugs’ to Your Thanksgiving Dinner

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Consumer Reports says reading turkey labels carefully is the key to avoiding eating meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Here is what you need to know.

Consumer Reports is reminding the public to read turkey product labels carefully to avoid inviting superbugs to Thanksgiving dinner.

The nonprofit organization points out that reasons for buying an organically raised turkey, rather than a conventionally raised bird, include:

Turkeys labeled organic are raised without antibiotics, and the overuse of those drugs in raising farm animals is causing big problems in humans.

A special report that will be published in the next issue of Consumer Reports’ magazine notes that a prior test of 231 turkey samples revealed that 83 percent of all samples were contaminated with superbugs — bacteria that are resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.

Overuse of life-saving antibiotics has led to the evolution of these superbugs, which include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Each year, 2 million people are infected and 23,000 people are killed by them, according to Consumer Reports.

Overuse of antibiotics is not limited to prescriptions for humans, however. According to Consumer Reports, about 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals raised for food.

Urvashi Rangan, executive director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Center at Consumer Reports, explains:

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are all too prevalent in our meat supply. Multistate outbreaks get a lot of attention, but the data underestimate the total number of illnesses because there are many more that occur at the local level. …

Rangan adds that over the years, Consumer Reports has tested hundreds of packages of supermarket meat, poultry and shrimp and found multidrug-resistant bacteria in samples from every type of animal.”

To find an organic turkey, Consumer Reports suggests looking for the following terms on labels:

  • USDA Organic/No Antibiotics: This is one of the best guarantees a bird didn’t receive antibiotics (although poultry labeled “USDA Organic” may have been given antibiotic injections before hatching and until the second day of life.)
  • USDA Process Verified: When this term is accompanied by claims like “No Antibiotics Administered,” you can buy with confidence.
  • Animal Welfare Approved: Poultry labeled with this term has been raised under healthy conditions that exclude nontherapeutic antibiotics (meaning only sick and injured birds may receive antibiotics).

Some claims are unapproved, and should be approached with caution. They include: “antibiotic free,” “no antibiotic residues” and “no antibiotic growth promotants.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the best way to kill any bacteria in meat and poultry — including drug-resistant bacteria — is to cook it thoroughly.

For more information, read “7 Keys to Dodging Deadly Bacteria That Lurk in Your Food.”

What kind of turkey will you be eating for Thanksgiving? Let us know below or on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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