People might be questioning the safety of eating chicken in light of news reports claiming a link between the E. coli that causes human urinary tract infections and E. coli that could be found on chicken products. Dr. Randall Singer, DVM, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences.
Dr. Randall Singer
Dr. Singer urges people to keep three things in mind:
1. Chicken is safe to eat, but must be handled properly in the kitchen.
2. It is possible that women are getting urinary tract infections from bacteria that might be moving through the food chain. The issue has nothing to do with the use of antibiotics in poultry.
3. The resistance that is observed in the E. coli mentioned in this news report is the same resistance that is found everywhere and to link it to a specific use of antibiotics is a scientifically flawed assumption.
Click the audio link to listen to Dr. Singer’s response to one news report claiming urinary tract infections can sometimes be caused by eating contaminated chicken.
The National Chicken Council (NCC) reminds people who have concerns that all bacteria, resistant or not, are killed by proper cooking.
“It is always pertinent to remind consumers about the importance of safe food handling and cooking – washing of hands, cutting boards and utensils, cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165 degrees and preventing cross contamination in the kitchen,” said Ashley Peterson, Ph. D., NCC vice president of science and technology.
Analyzing Antibiotic Use in Food Animals
Dr. Singer and Dr. Scott Hurd both wrote white papers to address our inquiry “True? Or Not? Healthy cows, pigs and chickens are routinely fed large amounts of antibiotics leading to increased antibiotic resistance in humans eating meat products." Dr. Singer concluded that this statement was misguided. And Dr. Hurd concluded that the statement was false.
Dr. Singer said:
“Antibiotics are an integral component of animal health. All uses of antibiotics improve animal health, and these improvements in animal health can substantially improve human health because healthier animals lead to safer food. All uses of antibiotics also have the potential to increase levels of antibiotic resistance. Healthy animals are fed antibiotics to keep them healthy. When these uses are stopped, animal illness levels can increase, and these sick animals then need to be treated with antibiotics at high doses and with antibiotics that are important to human health. While all antibiotic uses can select for resistance, the high the high dose therapeutic uses that are used to treat sick animals may be of the greatest concern. The best way to avoid the need for high dose, clinically important antibiotics is to keep the animals healthy in the first place, and low dose antibiotics used for growth promotion and disease prevention can help. While humans eating meat products can be exposed to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, it is impossible to become ill from a resistant bacterium via food if the bacterium is not ingested in the first place. Nothing replaces the need for good food handling practices and proper food safety.”
Dr. Hurd said:
“The occurrence of resistant bacteria on the farm or in humans does not constitute a risk or create harm. At a recent Congressional subcommittee hearing, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases stated there is no definitive study that links the use of antibiotics in animal feed to changes in resistance in humans. The presence of a hazard, e.g. resistant bacteria, does not hurt anyone unless there is sufficient exposure and dose to cause illness. Similarly, before antibiotic resistance resulting from on-farm antibiotic use can be harmful (risky) a number of events must occur:
1. Bacteria must remain alive on food items
2. There must be illness caused by resistant bacteria
3. The ill person must receive medical attention
4. A physician must prescribe an antibiotic, and
5. The patient must get worse or fail to recover, due to the resistant infection.”