Antibiotic Resistance, Food, and Food-Producing Animals

Antibiotics are medicines that kill or stop the growth of bacteria. Antibiotics save lives, but any time antibiotics are used, they can contribute to the development and spread of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria develop the ability to survive or grow despite being exposed to antibiotics designed to kill them. Antibiotic resistance spreads through people, animals, and the environment. Improving antibiotic use, including reducing unnecessary use, can help stop resistance from spreading.

Read on to learn what CDC is doing to help stop antibiotic-resistant infections from food and animals, and how you can protect yourself and your family.

Animals and Food

Animals carry bacteria in their guts just as people do. Some of these bacteria may be antibiotic resistant. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can get in food in several ways:

  • They can spread to meat and poultry when animals are slaughtered and processed.
  • Animal waste (poop) can contain resistant bacteria and get into the surrounding environment.
    • Fruits and vegetables can get contaminated through contact with soil, water, or fertilizer that contains animal waste.

Learn about an outbreak of multidrug-resistant Salmonella in children who worked with dairy calves.

Transmission of Antibiotic-Resistant Intestinal Infections to People

People can get antibiotic-resistant intestinal infections from various sources, including food.

People also can get these infections by handling or eating contaminated food or coming in contact with animal waste (poop), either through direct contact with animals and animal environments or through contaminated drinking or swimming water.

People with intestinal infections usually do not need antibiotics to get better. However, people with severe infections (or those at risk of severe infections) may need antibiotics. People at risk for serious disease or complications include infants, people who are 65 and older, and people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness. If an infection is antibiotic resistant, some types of antibiotics might not effectively treat it. Infections with resistant organisms cause more severe or dangerous illness.

CDC Investigations

In recent years, CDC has investigated many multistate intestinal illness outbreaks caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These outbreaks have been linked to contaminated food and to contact with farm animals, pets, and pet food and treats.

What CDC Is Doing

CDC is working to prevent infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria by:

  • Tracking resistant infections and studying how resistance emerges and spreads.
  • Detecting and investigating antibiotic-resistant outbreaks quickly to identify their sources and stop and prevent their spread.
  • Determining the sources of antibiotic-resistant infections that are commonly spread through food and animals.
  • Strengthening the ability of state and local health departments to detect, respond to, and report antibiotic-resistant infections.
  • Educating the public and food workers on prevention methods, including safe food handling, safe contact with animals, and proper handwashing.
  • Promoting the improved use of antibiotics in people and animalsexternal icon.
GRAPHIC: Food safety steps: clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Foodborne Illnesses: Protect Yourself and Your Family

You can take steps to help protect yourself and your family from antibiotic-resistant foodborne illnesses.

  • Take antibiotics only when needed, and take them exactly as prescribed.
  • Follow simple food safety tips:
    • CLEAN. Wash your hands after touching raw meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices, or uncooked eggs. Wash your work surfaces, cutting boards, utensils, and dishes before, during, and after cooking.
    • SEPARATE. Germs from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread to fruits, vegetables, and other ready-to-eat foods unless you keep them separate. Use one cutting board to prepare raw meats and another for foods that will not be cooked before they’re eaten. Don’t put cooked meat on a plate that had raw meat on it.
    • COOK. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature: 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, lamb, and veal, such as steaks, chops, and roasts, 160°F for ground red meats, and 165°F for poultry, including ground chicken and turkey.
    • CHILL. Keep your refrigerator below 40°F and refrigerate foods within 2 hours of cooking (refrigerate within 1 hour if the outdoor temperature is above 90°F).
  • Wash your hands after touching pets and other animals, or their food, water, poop, belongings (such as toys and bowls), or habitats (such as beds, cages, tanks, coops, stalls, and barns).
  • Review CDC’s Traveler’s Health recommendations when preparing for international travel.

For more information on antibiotic resistance and food safety, visit CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance, Food and Animals page.