Here’s what not to do. Don’t go to bed at 10:30 at night, after a Monday that had a to-do list a mile long, including a report on antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat. These bacteria are known as superbugs, and after falling asleep with the report still on my bed, I had vivid dreams about big, nasty bugs climbing out of the refrigerated meat section at the grocery store.

The report and consumer guide by the Environmental Working Group being released today is titled Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets, and it analyzes the latest government tests of supermarket meat to ferret out the truth about antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat.

Last February, a report on antibiotic-resistant bacteria in supermarket meat was released by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, a joint project of the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The EWG makes it a point to say that the results of these tests were “little noticed,” but here’s what was found.

Supermarket meat samples collected in 2011 harbored significant amounts of the superbug versions of salmonella and Campylobacter, which together cause 3.6 million cases of food poisoning a year.

The superbugs were found in:

  • 81 percent of ground turkey
  • 69 percent of pork chops
  • 55 percent of beef
  • 39 percent of chicken breasts, wings and thighs
Yikes. No wonder I dreamed about bugs crawling out of the refrigerated meat section.

Here’s something else the EWG report notes. In 2011, 30 million pounds of antibiotics were used on domestic food-producing animals, up 22 percent since 2005. In fact, 80 percent of all the antibiotics in America are used on food-producing animals. The other 20 percent of antibiotics are being used on humans.

But, even with this widespread use, or misuse as it actually is, the amount of potentially harmful bacteria found in meat is overwhelming. As more and more antibiotics are pumped into animals that don’t need them, bacteria adapt and become resistant to the antibiotics.

Animals aren’t the only ones that are affected. The problems it can cause humans is scary.

Antibiotic misuse threatens to make important antibiotics ineffective in treating human disease. In the past, people who became ill because of contact with harmful microbes on raw meat usually recovered quickly when treated with antibiotics. But today, the chances are increasing that a person can suffer serious illness, complications or death because of a bacterial infection that doctors must struggle to control.
The World Health Organization has said that “if important antibiotics become useless, things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

This is some serious stuff, and it needs to be brought out into the open, which is part of what this EWG report is attempting to do. The government, farms and pharmaceutical companies need to be working together to take the unnecessary use of antibiotics out of animal production.

There are some things consumers can do, too. The EWG has released a tip sheet to help you avoid superbugs in meat, including:

  • Opt for organic and meat raised without unnecessary antibiotics when you can. They have fewer superbugs, in part because these livestock producers rely on preventive medicine, good sanitation and stress reduction — not antibiotics — to keep animals healthy. Most stores offer an option at good prices.
  • Buy from farmers and producers who use antibiotics prudently: Some sell locally and others online.
  • Ask your butcher or local farmer how the meat was raised. Ask your store manager to carry meat raised without unnecessary antibiotics.
  • In your kitchen follow the safety rules found at
In addition to buying better meat and following safety rules, consumers need to spread the word. Tell your friends about the overuse of antibiotics in meat and the problems it can cause with human health. Link to this post or the EWG page on Facebook. Tweet about it.

You can also let your representatives know you want the government to take action. The EWG has an easy way for you to tell your representatives that you want them to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, or PAMTA. By adding your information to the EWG’s Stop unnecessary antibiotic use in animals form, your request will automatically be sent your representative in Washington.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat on the rise
A new report released by EWG details just how widespread the use of antibiotics in animals is and the disturbing problems it's causing for humans.