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BOSTON — July 4 is upon us, and soon we'll gather to toast the holiday and enjoy the peak of summer. Most of us will eat a barbecued meal with family and friends as well — the Fourth is the number one grilling event of the year. Here are some key things to know to protect your health when you're preparing your 4th of July barbecue.
Much of the meat sold in the U.S. comes from animals raised with the routine use of antibiotics. Producers often give the drugs to animals that aren't sick to prevent disease brought on by unsanitary, over-crowded conditions and other outdated production practices. That use breeds "superbugs," bacteria that can cause infections that are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat in people. These bacteria travel off farms and into communities via food itself and environmental factors as well.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 1 in 5 antibiotic-resistant infections in humans are caused by germs from food and animals. Health experts, including the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics, are calling for an end to the routine use of antibiotics in food-producing animals because of the risks posed to human health.
The good news is that many food companies are acting responsibly and transitioning away from routine antibiotic use. After hearing from its customers, Perdue Farms, the fourth-largest U.S. chicken producer, phased the use of antibiotics important to human medicine out of nearly its entire production system. Tyson Foods, the largest chicken producer in the country, followed suit shortly afterward when some of its biggest customers, including McDonald's, said they wanted chicken raised without misusing life-saving medicines. We estimate that about half of the U.S. chicken industry is on track to no longer raise birds with the routine use of medically important antibiotics soon.
Beef and pork are a different story. According to the latest data from the FDA, beef producers purchase 43 percent of the medically-important antibiotics sold for food production, with pork producers trailing close behind at 37 percent. Although beef and pork products raised without routine antibiotics are not as prevalent as chicken, you can find responsibly raised meat in most places. Companies like Niman Ranch, Applegate, and Walden Meats sell meat from animals raised without misusing the drugs.
Even so, labels can be daunting and confusing when you purchase meat at the grocery store. Consumer Reports has some great resources for how to navigate labels to ensure that you're purchasing meat raised without routine antibiotics. You can also visit the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center resource page at the George Washington University for some helpful tips in protecting your family from potentially-harmful bacteria on the meat you're cooking.
Buying local is also a good option, especially in Massachusetts. You can visit eatwild.com to find farmers in your area who raise animals without misusing antibiotics. Or you can find out about it the old-fashioned way: visiting farmers markets and asking the farmers directly about their antibiotics practices.
Don't just focus on fireworks safety this July 4 — focus also on food safety. And the best way to start is keeping meat raised with routine antibiotic use off your grill.
Deirdre Cummings is the Consumer Program Director for the MASSPIRG Education Fund, a non-profit non -partisan organization working to protect pubic health. www.masspirgedfund.org
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