Food and Food Animals

Four Steps for Food Safety
  • Clean hands, cooking utensils, and surfaces when preparing food
  • Separate raw meat from other foods
  • Cook foods to safe temperatures
  • Chill leftovers and other foods promptly

Learn more on CDC’s Food Safety page

The American food supply is among the safest in the world, but people can still get sick from foodborne infections or from contact with animals and their environments. These infections can be caused by antibiotic-resistant germs.

Animals, like people, carry bacteria in their guts which may include antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When animals are slaughtered and processed for food, resistant germs in the animal gut can contaminate meat or other animal products. Animal waste also carries resistant bacteria. Fruits, vegetables, and other produce can become contaminated through contact with soil or water containing waste from other animals.

People can get infections in different ways:

  • From handling or eating meat and seafood that is raw or undercooked and contaminated with resistant germs
  • From handling or eating fruits and vegetables contaminated with resistant germs
  • From contact with animal waste, either directly or when it gets into the environment
  • From touching or caring for animals without proper handwashing

About Antibiotic Use in Food Animals

Antibiotics save human and animal lives, but when they are used, they can contribute to the development of resistance. Animals get sick, just like people, and treatment should not be delayed or avoided for sick animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires veterinary oversight external icon for the use of medically-important antibiotics in food animals. FDA has approved antibiotics for use in food-producing animals to:

  • Treat disease in animals that are sick
  • Control disease for a group of animals when some of the animals are sick
  • Prevent disease in animals that are at risk for becoming sick

CDC supports improved use of antibiotics in people and animals, and strongly supports the important work that the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are doing to improve antibiotic use in veterinary medicine and agriculture.

Using Antibiotics for Growth Promotion

When animals are given antibiotics for growth promotion or increased feed efficiency, bacteria are exposed to low doses of these drugs over a long period of time. This is inappropriate antibiotic use and can lead to the development of resistant bacteria. As of 2017, medically important drugs–those that are important to human health–are no longer allowed to be used for growth promotion or feed efficiency in the U.S.

What “Antibiotic Free” Food Labels Mean

Currently, there is no single definition for “antibiotic free” on food labels. This label is not approved by the USDA, and has no clear meaning.

Food-producing animals should not have antibiotics in their system before being slaughtered for food. This ensures there are no antibiotic residues (traces of leftover antibiotics) in your food.

Still, “antibiotic free” does not mean the animals do not carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria. All animals carry bacteria in their gut, and some of these can be resistant germs. This is why it is important to follow simple food safety steps to prevent getting sick from food that could be contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.