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Don't be alarmed, but be forewarned. Consumer Reports did a study about beef and superbugs.

MRSA and salmonella are real concerns, especially for those with weak immune systems. Here's what you should know.

What happens when you take beef purchased from 26 American cities, some of it raised conventionally and some of it raised sustainably, and test it for "superbugs"?

Consumer Reports ran just such an experiment, and we might want to pay attention to the results. First, let's get some definitions out of the way.

Here's how Merriam-Webster defines superbug:


And what is the difference between sustainably and conventionally raised beef?

  • Conventionally raised beef is from cows that are regularly dosed with antibiotics as a measure to try to prevent illness, instead of to treat it when a bacterial infection occurs.
  • Sustainably raised beef is sometimes also organic, but antibiotics definitely are not used unless a cow is truly sick with a bacterial sickness.

Here's what Consumer Reports found.

Image from USDA/Flickr.

Across 300 samples, totaling 458 pounds of beef (again, purchased from 26 American cities), antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria were found:

  • In 18% of conventionally raised beef.
  • In 9% of sustainably raised beef.

According to this study, your chances of coming across a big, bad superbug are double with conventionally raised beef. Some of us with super-strong immune systems may say, "Meh, I'll take my chances." But for some of the weakest among us with compromised immunity, this information could be crucial to limiting risk.

One organization is pushing back against the study, trying to reframe it positively.

“The real headline here is the bacteria that Consumer Reports doesn't report finding in their testing — Shiga toxin-producing E. coli."
— Betsy Booren, North American Meat Institute

In other words, a meat trade industry is saying the real headline here is that no E. coli was found. Since that was once the most common way to get sick from beef, that's definitely a good thing.

But it doesn't mean the concern about antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains isn't valid.

"In fact, the CDC estimates that each year more than 23,000 people die as a result of an infection caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria."
Consumer Reports "Beef Report"

So what do we do? Freak out? Be afraid of all beef? Nope!

The good news: There are things you can do to limit your risk.

Consider buying sustainably raised beef if you can afford it. But even if your beef is conventionally raised, being smart about how you cook it is key.

Ground beef is significantly more at risk because contaminants on the outside of beef get ground into the bulk of the meat, where it's harder to kill with heat. So burgers should always be cooked to at least 160 degrees internally (about medium).

Of course, one study does not a public safety rule make.

Hopefully more studies will follow this one soon to help consumers know for sure. But in the meantime, this knowledge, along with some helpful things to look for on packaging via Consumer Reports, can help limit your risk.

Because really, everyone just wants to enjoy their Royale With Cheese in peace.

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