Food and Food Animals
The U.S. 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 bacteria.
Animals, like people, carry bacteria (germs) in their gut, which can include antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Bacteria can spread between animals and in their environments (such as on farms, in animal markets, and during transport). When animals are slaughtered and processed for food, these bacteria can contaminate meat or other animal products such as milk and eggs. Animal waste also carries resistant bacteria. Fruits, vegetables, and other produce can become contaminated through contact with soil or water containing waste from animals.
People can get infections in different ways:
- From handling or eating meat, seafood, milk, or eggs that are raw or undercooked and contaminated with resistant bacteria
- From handling or eating fruits and vegetables contaminated with resistant bacteria
- From contact with animal waste, either directly or when it gets into water and the environment
- From touching or caring for animals without proper handwashing
Any time antibiotics are used, in people and animals, they can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic use in food animals can help treat bacterial diseases in animals. However, to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance, antibiotics should only be used when necessary.
CDC supports judicious use of antibiotics in people and animals, including the important work that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are doing to improve antibiotic use in veterinary medicine and agriculture.
Learn how livestock and poultry producers can help stop the spread of antibiotic resistance.
FDA’s Veterinary Feed Directiveexternal icon (VFD) final rule outlines the process for authorizing the use of VFD drugs (animal drugs intended for use in or on animal feed that require the supervision of a licensed veterinarian) and provides veterinarians in all states with a framework for authorizing the use of medically important antibiotics—those that are important to human health—in feed when needed for specific animal health purposes.
Additionally, implementation of FDA’s Guidance for Industry #213 in 2017 significantly changed the way medically important antibiotics can be used in food animals. When the changes were fully implemented, it became illegal to use medically important antibiotics for production purposes, and animal producers now need to obtain authorization from a licensed veterinarian to use them for treatment, prevention, and control of a specifically identified disease.
USDA, with FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), administers the U.S. National Residue Program (NRP)external icon to prevent residues that pose a potential threat to human health from entering the food supply. Antibiotic residues are small amounts of leftover antibiotics or pieces of antibiotics that are not completely absorbed after an animal is given antibiotics.
USDA requires documentation pdf icon[PDF – 18 pages]external icon from food producers to approve labels. Food labels on meat and poultry like “No Antibiotics Ever (NAE)” or “Raised Without Antibiotics,” and “No Added Antibiotics” mean that source food animals never received antibiotics. When these labels accompany a seal that states “USDA Process Verified,” it means USDA inspectors visited the farm to verify antibiotic useexternal icon.
However, these products can still carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria. All animals carry bacteria in their gut, and some of these can be resistant, even if the animal never receives antibiotics. These resistant bacteria can spread between animals and into food products.
Follow simple safety tips to protect yourself from food-related infections and also prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance. Most of the time, people should not take antibiotics to treat foodborne illnesses. Avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics helps slow the spread of antibiotic resistance. However, some people may get more severe infections and antibiotics can be lifesaving. People at risk for severe infections include young children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with other health conditions. Learn more about antibiotic use and human health.
- Food Safety and Inspection Service’s Meat and Poultry Labeling Termsexternal icon (USDA)
- FDA’s Strategy on Antimicrobial Resistanceexternal icon (FDA)
- The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animalsexternal icon (#209) (FDA)
- Recommendations for Sponsors of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs Approved for Use in Animals to Voluntarily Bring Under Veterinary Oversight All Products That Continue to be Available Over-the-Counterexternal icon (FDA)
- New Animal Drugs and New Animal Drug Combination Products Administered in or on Medicated Feed or Drinking Water of Food-Producing Animalsexternal icon (FDA)