Are There “Superbugs” in my Beef?

This past week Consumer Reports released a column that indicated ground beef from the grocery store is often contaminated with antibiotic resistant “superbugs”. This report was plastered over several news sources, warning people about the hidden dangers in their hamburgers.

When an inflammatory headline like this arises, I always wonder how good the information is. Just like I’ll take a whiff of a dog’s ear to try to sniff out a yeast infection, it’s best to dig into these articles a little deeper and see if they pass the smell test. And oftentimes they both end up stinking to high heaven.

And yes, if your dog has an ear infection you can often smell the cause of it–yeast or pseudomonas bacteria. It is still a good idea to look at the ear gunk under the microscope too, because ear gunk is way cooler when it is magnified 400 times.

The first contentious part of this report is their definition of a “superbug”. Their idea of a superbug is a bacteria that is resistant to more than one type of antibiotic. The problem with that definition is different species of bacteria are naturally resistant to different antibiotics. Think about it this way–the name “bacteria” correlates with an entire kingdom when you look at classifying organisms, exactly the same as the name “plants” does. Therefore bacteria are as different from each other as pine trees are from bluegrass in your lawn.

So when you spray your lawn with dandelion killer, the grass is naturally resistant to the spray. As a matter of fact, the grass is resistant to many different types of spray that kill dandelions. By Consumer Reports’ definition, that means bluegrass is a “superplant”.


Faster than a speeding venus fly trap, more powerful than the mighty Redwood…it’s SuperPlant!!!

The same thing can be said for bacteria. Just because a certain bacteria is resistant to some types of antibiotics does not mean that is unkillable. It is only a problem when it is resistant to the antibiotic that you would usually use to treat it with. And current research has found that humans are more likely to carry this kind of bacteria than animals.

The second part of the Consumer Report article that made no sense is what they failed to mention. In their testing, they did not find any traces of bacteria that are the main causes of foodborne disease–shiga toxin producing E. coli or Salmonella. Yes they found E. coli, but not all E. coli causes disease. And it’s everywhere, including inside of you right now. It’s like saying they walked into a forest and found leaves…ooo…wow.

The report also claimed to have found more bacteria on conventionally raised beef than on grass-fed beef. This is contrary to all the prior data on this subject. In addition, if you’ve ever actually gutted, skinned, and boned out an animal, you know that it has more to do with how careful you are at keeping the meat clean. The bacteria lives in the intestines or comes from the environment you are doing your butcher work in. Do the best job you can and remember that there will always be the chance there is a little bacteria (it’s raw meat for crying out loud, not a sterile surgery pack!), so cook it to 160 F if it’s ground meat.

When a news organization comes out with a headline claiming that the sky is falling and no one knows it, I have trouble not envisioning them sitting in their basement with a tin hat, bantering on about the sheeple. Especially when it does not use peer-reviewed data, and hides the data they did collect. These kinds of headlines sell newspapers, but cloud the discussion to keep us from actually addressing the real problems. If we are going to counter antibiotic resistance, we need to look at it in an objective manner that brings all parties to the table. Otherwise, the consequences of taking the discussion from the scientists and leaving it with the journalists and the politicians will be detrimental to human and animal health. And just like that infected dog ear, this approach to journalism stinks.

I would recommend both should be checked out by a veterinarian. The vet will know what to do.

I would recommend both should be checked out by a veterinarian. The vet will know what to do.

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5 responses to “Are There “Superbugs” in my Beef?

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