USDA Faulted for Inaction on Antibiotic Resistant Salmonella Strains

Multidrug-Resistant Strains in Ground Turkey, Beef Sickened 168 in 2011


Leading consumer advocacy and public health organizations today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to respond to a two-year-old petitionsubmitted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest aimed at keeping antibiotic-resistantSalmonella out of the food supply. The 14 groups say that antibiotic-resistant pathogens in the food supply pose a serious risk to consumers and that the federal government must do something to stop it.*

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food will make foodborne illness harder to treat, according to CSPI. Today CSPI also released a report documenting 55 foodborne outbreaks caused over the years by pathogens resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, and other important drugs. Just in 2011, the last year for which data are available, three major outbreaks of Salmonella Hadar and Salmonella Heidelberg in ground turkey, and Salmonella Typhimurium in ground beef, sickened 168 and hospitalized 48, according to CSPI. Those strains, as well as SalmonellaNewport, are the strains that CSPI wants USDA to treat as adulterants, much in the way USDA considers six deadly strains of E. coli (including the O157:H7) adulterants. Currently, USDA only recalls products with those antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella after the products have made people sick.

The federal government already acknowledges that antibiotic-resistant pathogens in the food supply threaten to reverse medical progress, as important antibiotic drugs lose their effectiveness due to overuse. But the groups writing USDA say the agency is not doing enough to protect consumers, and hasn't even convened a public meeting to discuss the issue, let alone proposed a regulation.

"USDA ignores this issue at our collective peril," said CSPI senior food safety attorney Sarah Klein. "The evidence is clear that antibiotic-resistant pathogens in food are very dangerous for consumers, and USDA could help solve the problem by making crystal clear that it won't accept these superbugs in meat and poultry."

Besides ground meat and poultry, dairy products have also been implicated in outbreaks due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Those three categories together are responsible for more than half of all such outbreaks. In 31 outbreaks, the pathogens were resistant to five or more drugs. While Salmonella caused the most outbreaks (48 of 55), enterotoxigenic E. coli caused five outbreaks, and resistant strains of Campylobacter jejuni and Staphylococcus aureaus caused one outbreak each.

"Antibiotic resistance isn't a hypothetical problem," said CSPI food safety research associate Susan Vaughn Grooters. "Real people are getting really sick from antibiotic-resistant pathogens in our food supply."

CSPI, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and other consumer advocacy groups have urged the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates animal drugs, to prohibit the non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics in food animals. CSPI first petitioned the FDA to do so in 1999. In 2011, nearly 30 million pounds of antimicrobial drugs were sold for use in food-producing animals—three times as much as were sold for use in human medicine.


*After this press release was issued, Keep Antibiotics Working signed on to the letter to Secretary Vilsack, bringing the total number of signatories to 14.

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Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at] or Ariana Stone (astone[at]