Often we are overwhelmed with information being shared through mainstream news, social media and conversations with friends or co-workers. It can be challenging to decipher what is truth versus a myth.
As a veterinarian and mother of two young children, I recognize the importance of getting the facts about the food we feed our families, so here are a few food safety myths plus that I want to debunk.
Dr. Carissa Odland
Myth No. 1: Antibiotic residue and antibiotic resistance are the same thing. Antibiotic residue happens when molecules remain in the meat or milk of animals that have been treated with antibiotics. When a sick animal is treated with an antibiotic, the animal’s body metabolizes or breaks down the drug as it moves through. Eventually, the antibiotic leaves the animal's body. However, this can take a varying amount of time, depending on the drug.
When drugs are approved for use in food-producing animals, the Food and Drug Administration establishes the amount of time from when an animal is treated until the antibiotic is out of the animal’s body — or at a low enough level — that it is safe for human consumption. This period of time is called the withdrawal period. Farmers work with their veterinarians to make sure they follow the withdrawal period between when animals are treated with an antibiotic and when they can be harvested.
Additionally, random testing and inspections occur when animals are harvested for food to ensure that the food supply is safe.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the capacity to inactivate or exclude antibiotics, or they develop a mechanism to block the killing effects of antibiotics. This process of antibiotics developing resistance occurs naturally, regardless of how antibiotics are used. Simply, it’s survival of the fittest as bacteria evolve to survive. However, we can fight antibiotic resistance. Responsible antibiotic use by human health and veterinary health sectors is an important aspect of preserving antibiotics as an important tool to stay healthy.
Myth No. 2: Only if you use antibiotics incorrectly will it lead to antibiotic resistance. The first modern-day antibiotics were developed in the 1920s. However, scientists recently discovered evidence of antibiotic resistance found in thousand-year-old mummies. They found genetic material within bacteria in the mummies' gastrointestinal tracts that has the potential to resist modern-day antibiotics. So despite the fact that antibiotics were not even developed yet, we can infer from this example that in an effort to survive, bacteria will transform and/or modify to resist the effects of antibiotics that might kill them.
Myth No. 3: Meat is less safe today than it was in the past. When we talk about "safe food," this can mean different criteria for different people. To you, this may mean it will not cause a foodborne illness. To others, safe food may mean it does not contain harmful chemicals or have antibiotics in it. And to some, safe food may mean it is wholesome and nutritious.
When I am feeding my family, I want all of these criteria to be met. Here are some of the facts that I found regarding meat safety:
• Bacteria counts are down compared to 10 to 15 years ago.
• Foodborne illness counts are down, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
• Increased technology at the time an animal is harvested can eliminate or reduce the bacterial load from meat.
• According to 2014 USDA data, less than 1% of all carcasses tested and inspected had a violative residue (chemical or antibiotic).
• Increased awareness about proper food preparation and handling of raw meat can reduce foodborne illness.
We still need to work on making food safer. One out of six Americans get sick from a foodborne disease, and 3,000 will die each year. Precautionary measures such as washing hands while preparing and handling food, or simply cooking all meat to proper temperatures, will kill the bacteria and eliminate the risk of a significant percent of foodborne illnesses.
This is a team effort that starts at the farm, and it needs to continue all the way to your kitchen and table.
Odland is a veterinarian and director of animal welfare at Pipestone Veterinary Services and Pipestone System. Contact her at 507-825-4211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.