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Food Safety Experts Warn of Dangers of Antibiotic-Resistant Salmonella

Filed October 16th, 2013 Laurie

Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York, has been trying to warn the public about the dangers posed by the use of antibiotics in food animals. Now, she says, a virulent outbreak of Salmonella poisoning linked to chicken produced at three Foster Farms‘ plants shows just how serious the situation has become.

“We’ve been warning for a long time, but we are about to reach a serious, critical mass here,” Slaughter told the San Francisco Chronicle. Slaughter has spent the last decade trying to restrict the use of antibiotics in food animals.

The outbreak, caused by the antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg strain, has sickened 317 people, including 13 who developed blood poisoning. Seventy-three percent of those sickened are from California, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

About 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are administered annually to livestock at low doses to prevent them from getting sick, but the doses aren’t strong enough to kill disease-causing bugs that grow in the animals, and they morph into drug-resistant strains, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the link between antibiotic use in livestock and growing bacterial resistance and has urged food producers to scale back the use of antibiotics, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The contaminated chicken produced by Foster Farms has not been recalled because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not consider Salmonella an adulterant; however, a San Francisco area Costco recalled 40,000 pounds of rotisserie chicken on Friday after food safety regulators discovered it was contaminated with the food-borne pathogen, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Cephalosporins, the main antibiotic class used to treat Salmonella, is still effective in treating people sickened by the bacteria, but Steven Roach, a senior analyst with Keep Antibiotics Working, a coalition of groups trying to limit antibiotic use in the food chain, told the San Francisco Chronicle that it might not last. He said that food experts “are seeing more resistance in salmonella to cephalosporin as well, although in this case that one will work.”

Many food experts want the USDA to declare Salmonella an adulterant because new strains are growing more toxic, but the agency cannot do so without a court order, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

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