I wanted to follow up on a previous post about “antibiotic free” labels on meat products by reiterating that no matter if the animal received an antibiotic during its life or not, the beef you buy at the restaurant or grocery store is always antibiotic free. This doesn’t matter if it is organic, natural or conventional. But how do we know that?
To start off with, any beef animal that has been treated with an antibiotic needs to wait for a specified withdrawal time before it can go to slaughter. This time varies based on the drug and the dosage, but all antibiotics have this time listed clearly on the label. These withdrawal times are based on research that must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which can–and does–reject approval of the drug based on any negative findings.
After the animal goes to slaughter, it is inspected by an official with the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), another part of the federal government. If anything looks like it might be suspicious at all for any reason, it is diverted from main cooler for further testing. Being that my grandfather and other family members and friends have worked for the government in the slaughterhouses in one capacity or another, I can vouch that they red-flag any food product they have doubts about.
If a carcass looks like it may be an antibiotic violation, samples are taken from the liver and/or kidney. This is because drugs tend to concentrate in these organs. The samples are tested for markers that correspond to antibiotics, both currently and previously available.
According to the data from the 2010 FSIS residue violation report, 0.8% of the 211,733 samples taken were positive. Note this is 0.8% of all the carcasses were suspicious for having a problem, not the entire meat supply. Also, these are positives from all species, not just beef cattle alone.
So this means that cattle arrive at the slaughterhouse without any traces of antibiotic in their system, except in very rare circumstances. Those that meet those rare circumstances are then discovered and weeded out of the food supply. This means you can have complete confidence that the beef you buy is antibiotic free, no matter how it was raised.
Photo credit: http://superfriends.wikia.com/wiki/Magic