Animal Antibiotics: Should We Be Concerned?


Last week was U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week, which was sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, the World Health Organization has stated that global antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest issues facing human health today. Our team decided to dive into a common consumer concern – the belief that most antibiotic-resistant infections stem from animal production.

Resistance occurs naturally as bacteria mutate, but the overuse of antibiotics has accelerated this process. For instance, overuse or misuse comes when people take antibiotics for a cold or don’t finish their full prescription. Overuse toward animals is when too many antibiotics are given in their feed or water for their growth. Today, when large amounts of antibiotics are present in an environment – whether it is a hospital or in the feedlot – the mutated strain can reproduce faster than the antibiotic.

No one wants to unknowingly eat foods with antibiotic residues or that contain resistant strains of bacteria. To better understand this, we set out to answer four major questions:

  1. Why do farmers use antibiotics in animals in the first place?
  2. If I eat animals treated with antibiotics, will the bacteria in my body become antibiotic resistant?
  3. If the chicken breast I regularly buy at the store doesn’t say “antibiotic free”, does that mean I am unknowingly consuming antibiotics?
  4. How are regulators and companies in the food industry monitoring antibiotics used for both animals and humans?

Why do farmers give animals antibiotics?

Farmers give animals antibiotics when they are sick. It is inhumane not to! Just like with humans, if an animal contracts a bacterial infection, it would be torture to not treat them with antibiotics. Not to mention, this also keeps the sick animal from passing an infection through the herd.

Antibiotics are also given to support animal growth rates. Farmers administer them routinely in feed or water to help grow animals, poultry, and fish more quickly. The premise behind this application is that if an animal’s immune system is not fighting off a disease, then their bodies will spend their energy growing instead of trying to stay healthy. This application for antibiotics is being heavily scrutinized.

If I eat animals treated with antibiotics, will the bacteria in my body become antibiotic resistant?

No. When meat is properly cooked, there is no chance of becoming resistant to antibiotics in your kitchen. A minimum heat of 160 degrees kills all bacteria – resistant or not. The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends that you clean, separate, cook, and chill your meat properly to prevent getting a foodborne illness.

image source: Foodal

What if the chicken breast I regularly buy at the store doesn’t say “antibiotic free”? Does that mean I am unknowingly eating antibiotics?

No. Even though a farmer will use antibiotics to treat a sick animal, the FDA has strict withdrawal guidelines that require all animals, poultry, and fish be clear of any antibiotic residue before it is harvested. They also specifically state the maximum dosage based on type and weight. All chicken, beef, turkey, pork, eggs, milk, and fish are antibiotic-free by the time they get to the grocery store.

The U.S. National Residue Program, an interagency program between the FSIS, FDA, EPA, and the USDA tests for any chemical or drug residues as well as foodborne illnesses in all types of animal products. Testing is consistent, the rules are clear, and the consequences are harsh. In 2017, less than 1% of the samples contained an antibiotic residue.

A Dirt-to-Dinner chicken

What is being done to combat antibiotic resistance in farm animal production?

The FDA has enacted a five-year plan to curtail antibiotic use in animals. This plan includes the following guidelines:

  1. No medically important antibiotics (that means antibiotics that are also used to treat human bacterial infections) can be used to treat animals for growth. Medically important drugs, such as tetracyclines and penicillin, will no longer be used to treat animals.
  2. Veterinarians must supervise the use of any medically important antibiotics given to food production animals for the sole purpose of treating illnesses.

As of July 2018, Iowa State University is leading a national institute to address this public health issue. They have partnered with the USDA, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Medical Center, Mayo Clinic and other organizations to form the Institute for Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education.

Major food companies, restaurants, grocery stores, and food producers have vowed to reduce antibiotic use, mostly for growth purposes. Many are doing intense research on animal gut health to reduce the need for antibiotics. Animal welfare also plays a role to make sure the animals, poultry, and fish are growing in a healthy environment. Antibiotics will no longer be used as a crutch for poor animal care.

Putting antibiotics into perspective

Those fearful of antibiotics used in food production often misinterpret the statistic that 80% of all antibiotics are used for animal production. This number is misleading, and simply put, is a matter of volume…

Each year, about 8 billion chickens, 200 million turkeys, 100 million hogs and 30 million cattle are processed in the U.S. alone. Compare that number to the U.S. human population of 325 million. That’s only 40% of the animal volume!

According to the Centers for Disease Control, most of the biggest threats can be avoided if one stays healthy and doesn’t overdo it on the antibiotics. When it comes to concerns about our food supply, the three most prevalent antibiotic-resistant strains are not the result of animal antibiotics. They are found either in hospitals or are spread from person to person: Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, and Neisseria gonorrhea. One example is C. Difficile due to the overuse of antibiotics.

The CDC states that overuse is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. They state that up to 50% of all antibiotics prescribed to humans are either not needed or not used properly. The two that are related to food are Campylobacter and Salmonella. But those can be prevented by handling your meat carefully and cooking it properly!

Ban Salmonella From Your Thanksgiving Table!

two turkeys in conversation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is in the midst of investigating a multistate outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella infections linked to raw turkey pet food, raw turkey products, and live turkeys. The outbreak strain has infected 164 people across 35 states.

According to the CDC website, the outbreak is not attributable to one supplier or one location in the country. However, Jennie-O Turkey Store Sales in Wisconsin last week recalled 91,388 pounds of raw turkey products due to possible salmonella contamination.

The most susceptible victims of salmonella poisoning are those with weak or compromised immune systems, the elderly and the very young.

The salmonella outbreak involving turkey is spread across 35 states. Source: Centers for Disease Control

What is salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacteria that live in the intestines of animals and is excreted in their poop. It gets transmitted among animals if it gets in their food or water. Contamination to humans can occur where food is being made or processed if the facility lapses in washing the birds perfectly or lapses in employee, building or machinery sanitation.

The most common symptoms of salmonella illness include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Symptoms usually appear 6 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food and may last for 3 to 7 days without treatment.

Are foodborne illness outbreaks increasing in frequency?

No. We are more aware of food recalls because of improved reporting systems, testing programs, and genetic coding of pathogens. The food industry and government agencies apply the most current science and up-to-date technologies to keep you healthy and trust the food you buy.

But here’s the thing: salmonella is preventable.It doesn’t have to interfere with your Thanksgiving meals with family and friends!  This outbreak should serve as a reminder to our readers on how to safely prepare and cook a turkey— and for that matter, all meat!


6 Simple Steps to keep salmonella away from your Thanksgiving table:

Wash your hands, not the bird!

Salmonella can spread quickly and easily from one dirty hand to another. Additionally, as the USDA states, “washing raw meat or poultry can cause bacteria to spread up to three feet away.”

Don’t Cross-Contaminate!

When preparing your bird, be sure to designate one non-porous cutting board or surface specifically for the raw meat- not allowing any other greens, or sides to come in contact with that prep space.

Thoroughly clean all surfaces!

Once the bird is prepped, thoroughly rewash hands, surfaces, counters, cutting boards- anything the meat has come into contact with- in hot soapy water!

Cook the Bird completely!

Cook your turkey until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer. This will ensure that all harmful bacteria have been killed. Additionally, be sure to check the bird in at least three separate places to confirm internal temperature is accurate.

Cook stuffing separately from the bird!

While stuffing the turkey has been a tradition for many years, it is widely advised today to keep the stuffing separate. This is because bacteria can survive in the stuffing unless it is cooked to 165 degrees. Getting the stuffing to this temperature usually means overcooking the bird.

Re-heat  leftovers!

When reheating leftovers, heat them to 165 degrees, as measured with a food thermometer.

Thawing a frozen turkey? It takes approximately 24 hours to thaw 5 pounds. So, if you are cooking a 15-pound turkey, you should you should allow 3 days for your bird to completely thaw in the refrigerator. Once the turkey is thawed, it is recommended that you cook it within two days. 

Safety is the most important tradition!

Now that we are all masters of safety in the kitchen and know the steps to safe cleaning and preparation, D2D would like to wish you and your family and guests a wonderful Thanksgiving. Whether you enjoy a deep-fried turkey tradition, hunting in the Pennsylvania mountains, cooking for thirty, or playing golf in the Florida sunshine, stay safe and have a HAPPY THANKSGIVING! 

Our Food as Fuel

soda, chips, candy, junk food

Being a consumer is confusing! We are inundated with mixed messages from various food companies and even the US government. How can we tell fiction from fact?

When you eat, consider this: everything you put in your body acts as fuel for your cells. Just like putting dirty gasoline in your car, if you eat donuts, candy, and other overly-processed snacks and beverages your body will sputter and eventually break down. These poor choices can ultimately manifest into inflammation which can morph into heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases.

Conversely, if you put clean gasoline in your car, it will accelerate properly and react quickly. The same with food for your body. With fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and the right fats, your body will maintain strong performance.  

Stay away from sugar.

This is hard because sugar is everywhere. 60% of the products found in your grocery store have added sugars. It is hidden in ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, and tomato sauces. It is in plain sight in sodas, fruit juices, candy, donuts, and even yogurt. And perhaps not-so-obvious in refined carbs, such as white pasta and bread.

There is more sugar than you think in some of your favorite products.

Whether it is cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup, almost all sugars are approximately 50% fructose and 50% glucose. Each individual source has the same effect on your body, regardless of what form it is disguised as.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 24 grams of sugar per day for women and 36 grams for men each day. Yet most people consumer over 90 grams a day!

What happens when you eat sugar?

When you eat a high sugar snack, insulin is secreted and it opens the cell wall for the glucose to enter.  That is a good thing because each cell in your body needs glucose for energy. But when we eat too much sugar, the insulin spikes and the cells cannot process the glucose fast enough. It’s like trying to drink from a firehose instead of a glass. Two things happen from the excess insulin and the lack of glucose in the cells:

  • Excess insulin that is left hanging around can damage the cells. Your healthy cells then think they are under attack and release inflammatory compounds. In the meantime, the extra glucose gets stored in the liver for future use but, like insulin, too much-underutilized glucose swimming around in the bloodstream also turns into fat.
  • Since the body cannot process this firehose effect, your body now thinks it needs more food to give it energy. And you crave for more. The snacking continues – the calories build – and visceral fat accumulation begins.

In case you forgot about the fructose, it is only modestly absorbed in the liver, and the excess also turns to fat.

Sugar is the biggest culprit of fat and inflammation.

Visceral Fat

As we mentioned, excess sugar in the body turns into fat. Visceral fat is primarily stored around the abdominal area. This type of fat is what is now suspected to be the culprit for many diseases. It has been proven that it is the visceral fat that sends out pro-inflammatory markers – thus causing chronic inflammation that can lead to numerous diseases.

The more sugar you eat… the more you crave it… the more glucose insulin and fructose in the body turn to fat… the more visceral fat accumulations occur… this causes more inflammatory markers to be sent out, and ultimately the more chronic inflammation to internally transpire.

What if I eat a diet low in fat?

Many people think that a diet low in fat is a good thing— but, in most cases (unbeknownst to the consumer due to clever marketing) “low-fat” options are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. It is important to maintain a diet that incorporates the right type of fat.

Fat is our friend.

But not all fats look alike. Many foods contain a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. For instance, a healthy avocado has both types, but more unsaturated fats.

Fats to avoid:

Trans-fatty acids. Once these fats get into your bloodstream, they cause plaque, which is hard to remove and causes inflammation. Most food companies have removed them from products, but still fat to be aware of.

Fats to eat in moderation:

Saturated fats – limit these to less than 10% of your daily diet. Eating butter, bacon, red meats with fat, and sausage isn’t the end of the world, but think of these as occasional options and not everyday choices.

Fats that are considered part of a healthy diet:

Unsaturated fats. More easily digested foods from the Mediterranean diet fit this category. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.

omega-3 is a healthier fatty acid than omega-6.  Omega-3 will aid in reducing inflammation as well as protect against cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. Omega-6 is an anti-inflammatory which can protect against atherosclerosis and other diseases. However, too much omega-6 can also stimulate pro-inflammatory processes.

Inflammatory pain can lead to stress.

There are psychological effects associated with acute and chronic inflammation, including stress and depression. Stress can influence food choices. The Dirt-to-Dinner team loves chocolate when we are stressed! And we are certainly not alone — most people choose sweets or fries when stressed and skip the blueberries and kale.

Stress creates cortisol – an inflammatory hormone. Some studies have shown that eating a diet high in healthy fats from fish, walnuts, wheat germ, or flaxseed can actually lower the prevalence of clinical depression.

Supplements and diet-hacks are not a cure-all.

Supplements (like CBD and turmeric) may help some individuals with their inflammation— many of our friends take one or the other. But there is not enough research, most notably no human trials, to confirm that supplements are the cure-alls for inflammation. In addition, supplements are not regulated by the FDA so you do not know exactly where it is coming from or the recommended dosage.

Similarly, “gluten-free” dieting has been touted as a possible cure for inflammation. But unless you have celiac disease or have been tested by a doctor for gluten intolerance, going gluten-free is not going to reduce inflammation. Some people may lose weight but that is probably because they eliminated a whole food group of carbohydrates, not because they eliminated the gluten protein. “Gluten-free” marketing further confuses the consumer. Ice cream and yogurt, for instance, are always gluten-free. Last time we checked there was no gluten in dairy!

The gut-brain connection.

Good gut health is important, and research tells us that strong gut health is the key to our immune system. There are millions of microbes in your gut. They are what keep you healthy. Are you familiar with pre and probiotics?

Prebiotics in your stomach feed the probiotics in your intestines. While we know healthy microbiota is good because it reduces inflammation; what we don’t know is exactly what types of microbiota, the combination of gut bacteria, and exactly how it works with your genetic code. My bacteria is different from yours, which is different from the person sitting next to you. But, while we don’t know the exact bacteria combination, we do know the foods that can promote it: fermented foods such as sauerkraut, coleslaw, yogurt, cheese, and olives. Gut microbiota is an exciting area of human health research.

In the News: Glyphosate (again)


For most of us, weeds are a backyard annoyance. Whether they are in a flower or vegetable garden or sprouting up in the lawn, manual eviction is possible. For farmers around the world, however, weeds are a lot more than an annoyance. Weeds in a farm field mean that crop producers must spend valuable time and money getting rid of them before they steal the water and nutrients that crops rely on to grow.

Weeds make a difference in how big the crop is at harvest time, and how much money is left over after all the expenses of production, harvesting, storage, transportation, and marketing are paid.

For close to four decades, the safest and most effective herbicide has been Roundup, made by Monsanto. Its active ingredient is glyphosate – which in geek-speak is “an organophosphorus compound, specifically a phosphonate, which acts by inhibiting the plant enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase.” In perhaps overly simplistic but understandable terms, it’s a salt that dries up and ultimately kills plants.

Why do farmers use glyphosate? Read our post: Is Glyphosate Safe?

Back in 2015, the use of glyphosate took on a strong international political flavor. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization (WHO) agency devoted to cancer research, concluded that glyphosate is a “probable carcinogen.” IARC’s methodology evaluated hazard and not risk (coffee is a hazard too if you drink too much of it), and has been widely disputed by many other scientific organizations, including the European Food Safety Authority and the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)/World Health Organization (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR). In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Programdoes not list glyphosate as either “known to be a human carcinogen” or “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

The difference of opinion on glyphosate has prompted intense battles and lobbying – in academic circles, in the media, in the courtroom and regulatory arena, and beyond.  Despite the fact that its use reduces the amount of herbicide needed, decreases use of more toxic herbicides, and enables farmers to till their fields less thereby improving soil health, environmental groups have made glyphosate almost an evil incarnate, to be either completely banned or at least extremely tightly controlled.  A new claim or new study seems to emerge regularly, alleging some new danger or additional “proof” of real and serious danger to the public health, the environment or some other vulnerable group. Notably, the EU debated further restrictions on the use of glyphosate or an outright ban on its sale or use but ultimately kicked the can down the road until at least 2022.

Closer to home, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental advocacy group, recently released a report claiming to have found minute levels of glyphosate in 26 of 28 breakfast cereals and snack bars tested.  Such presence should worry consumers, EWG suggested, especially where the health of children is concerned.

Hold on a minute, said others across the scientific, public health and business communities. The levels detected in the study are far, far below the threshold set by even the most stringent regulatory standards. People would need to consume vast quantities of these products over their lifetime before reaching the Allowable Daily Intake.  This is nothing more than a clear effort to cry wolf, using children as a tool to advance an environmental or ideological agenda.

A child weighing 11 pounds would have to eat 29 servings of Quaker® Old Fashioned Oats and 101 servings of Cheerios™ every day over a lifetime.

An older child weighing about 44 pounds would have to eat 115 servings of Quaker® Old Fashioned Oats and 404 servings of Cheerios™ every day over a lifetime.

The FDA began testing for glyphosate levels in harvested crops for the first time in 2016 and released that data in October 2018. According to the agency’s report, no glyphosate was detected in milk and eggs. In corn and soybean samples that did test positive (many tested negative), the amounts were below minimum levels established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As these EWG headlines renewed the controversy, a judge in California substantially reduced to $78 million the initial $289 million awarded last summer by a San Francisco jury to the groundskeeper who claimed his cancer resulted from exposure to Roundup. The ruling came despite hundreds of reviews and studies, most by government regulatory oversight agencies and independent scientists, that has found the popular weed killer to be safe as used.

The size of the initial award had attracted global media attention and raised eyebrows across the business community and around the world.  The recent reduction enabled Monsanto to claim some sort of victory – if only in the chance to repeat the defense of its product.

“There is an extensive body of research on glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides, including more than 800 rigorous registration studies required by the EPA and European and other regulators that confirm that these products are safe when used as directed.” (Monsanto)

The EPA, as part of a normal chemical review process, is currently engaged in its latest routine review of glyphosate and will publish its decision in 2019.  However, in December 2017, the EPA published the following:

“The draft human health risk assessment concludes that glyphosate is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The Agency’s assessment found no other meaningful risks to human health when the product is used according to the pesticide label. The Agency’s scientific findings are consistent with the conclusions of science reviews by a number of other countries as well as the 2017 National Institute of Health’s Agricultural Health Survey.”

The release of the EPA’s registration review report is certain to trigger the next animated round of debate.  Meanwhile, expect still more of the steady drip of claims and counterarguments from a broad spectrum of interest groups – public health, environmental, scientific and business, just to name a few.  The headlines aren’t going away any time soon.

Should I Go Gluten Free?

wheat stalk on slice of wheat bread

You probably have a lot of friends that have kicked gluten to the curb. In fact, up to a third of Americans are cutting back on it in the hope that it will improve their health.

Doing so requires a lot of discipline because gluten is in so many common (and favorite) foods. Say sayonara to whole wheat bread, fresh pasta, couscous, pretzels, granola, flour tortillas, beer, and generally anything else that is made from grain flour. Many other foods could include gluten, even foods that are not obvious, such as salad dressings and soy sauce. Of course, there are choices available for gluten-free wheat…but it is cumbersome to manage.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a combination of two proteins – gliadin and glutenin. That’s it. Two simple proteins found in almost all grains. They give the dough its elastic and rising properties and provide texture to the finished product. Without gluten, your bread would not be airy and light and your cookies would be flat and dense.

Why are people going gluten-free?

For the most part, consumers are going gluten-free to stay healthy and shed a few extra pounds. However, this is not a recommended way to maintain a balanced diet. Gluten-free does not necessarily equal weight loss. Additionally, people who follow a gluten-free diet (and don’t need to) often lack needed nutrients by eliminating an entire food group.

The only reasons to eliminate gluten from your diet are:

If you have celiac disease. This is a very serious issue for roughly 1% of the population. In some cases, people afflicted with celiac can be hospitalized from eating gluten. If you have celiac disease, your body is unable to process the gluten protein and you can develop painful inflammation and damage in your intestinal tract and other areas of your body.
You have been tested and confirmed with a ‘gluten sensitivity’. Those that test positive have a different immune response to grain proteins. The terms non-celiac gluten sensitivity and non-celiac wheat sensitivity are generally used to refer to this condition, and when removing gluten from the diet resolves symptoms. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “At this point, research has not confirmed that gluten is the culprit triggering the immune reaction as is the case with celiac disease.”

Do we need gluten as part of a balanced diet?

Not all foods that contain gluten are healthy. For instance, eating pizza every day will cause you to gain weight – but this weight gain is not in response to eating gluten! But nutritionists and medical professionals will advise against going gluten-free (unless you have a medical reason) because whole grains are essential for a healthy diet.

Wheat, barley, and rye, for example, are good sources of B vitamins, fiber, iron, and some essential trace minerals, such as manganese and selenium. A diet containing whole grains helps reduce your risk of heart disease, and dietary fiber found in whole grains can reduce cholesterol levels. Whole grains also help you maintain healthy blood pressure.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “in the U.S., gluten-free foods tend to be lower in folate, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. This may be because in this country most wheat products are enriched with folic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron, while gluten-free flours, cereals, and bread products typically are not.”

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, children should consume between 6-11 servings of whole grain a day, and adults should consume between 3 and 5 servings of whole grain every day.


Whole grains provide essential vitamins and minerals. source: Whole Grains Council

The gluten labeling craze.

Because so many consumers have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, food companies (and grocery stores) are going crazy with the gluten-free label. It seems like every product in the grocery store indicates whether the product has gluten— even when it’s not a grain-based food!



Gluten-free labeling is even on products that would never contain gluten in the first place. Ice cream does not contain grain! 

Despite what marketing efforts will have you believe, gluten-free products are not inherently healthier. Gluten-free substitutes may contain other additives, and, unlike whole wheat options, they are not typically enriched with additional nutrients. In fact, many gluten-free products are higher in saturated fat and sugar. Look closely at the nutrition and ingredient labels next time you are considering a gluten-free purchase!

If you do not experience any symptoms when consuming gluten, that means your body is comfortable digesting it. But, if you choose to join the crowd and go gluten-free anyway, it is important to know how you will be replacing the nutrients you are inevitably eliminating.