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2012-09-17

Residual Antibiotics in Meat Make it Dangerous to Eat

(The kinda rhymes! ...the title, that is)

Hot on the heels of the study confirming some potential benefits of organic foods, here's a another reason to continue eating certified organic meat...

Antibiotics are used to promote growth and/or to treat bacterial infections in conventionally-grown livestock. However, as we should all know by now, these can eventually end up in the meat; and therefore, US and EU regulators have set limits on the concentrations used in meat destined for human consumption.

Products like pepperoni, salami, sausages are fermented using lactic acid-producing bacteria in a curing process many cultures have employed for hundreds of years. This fermentation process helps solidify and acidify the sausages.

Today, sausage manufacturers inoculate sausage meat with lactic acid-producing bacteria to ensure the final product is acidic enough to kill pathogens that might have existed in the raw meat (such as Salmonella and E.coli O157:H7). Unfortunately, fermented sausages occasionally cause serious bacterial infections, but it's never been understood how or why that can happen.

Now researchers in Denmark and Ireland, set out to determine if the low levels of antibiotic residues present in the meat might interfere with the fermentation process. During this new study, antibiotics at low concentrations (at regulatory levels set by authorities) were added to meat that had been inoculated with lactic acid-producing bacteria and common foodborne pathogens E.coli O157:H7 and Salmonella enterica.

The research team discovered that several of the different starter cultures of lactic acid-producing bacteria were sensitive to the residual levels of antibiotics and as a result did not adequately acidify the sausage meat. Further, they also found that the antibiotic residues had no effect on the foodborne pathogenic bacteria.

These results show the paradoxical effect antibiotics can have--antibiotic residues reduce the effectiveness of bacteria that should make the sausages safe, but don't kill the bacteria that can make you sick.

How can we be sure antibiotic residues don't interfere with the safety of these products? The ultimate, and most logical solution is to eliminate the use of antibiotics as growth promoters and closely monitor the use of antibiotics in treating diseases. The EU and other countries have banned the use of antibiotics in livestock as growth promoters, but this practice continues in the US (who is unlikely to ban this practice any time soon).

Another possibility is using cultures of lactic acid-producing bacteria that are resistant to low levels of antibiotics, but introducing antibiotic resistant strains of these good bacteria is playing with fire enriched radioactive uranium. Why? Bacteria freely transfer pieces of DNA (called plasmids) to/from each other--this is how they constantly evolve and how different strains develop. The danger is that the gene for antibiotic resistance can and will spread swiftly to these pathogenic bacteria. (Aside: this is also one reason why in countries where probiotics are regulated--like Canada--manufacturers much prove the absence of antibiotic resistance.)

The next step would be to take this study conducted in the lab, and apply it to a real-world manufacturing facility/process to see if the results hold true in real-life situations.

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Source: Residual Antibiotics Disrupt Meat Fermentation and Increase Risk of Infection


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