Antibiotic Resistance, Food, and Food Animals

The American food supply is among the safest in the world, but people can still get food poisoning by eating contaminated foods. Some food poisoning is caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Symptoms of infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria are like other food poisoning symptoms, which can be mild to life-threatening and include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

Antibiotics are medicines that kill or stop the growth of bacteria. Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria develop the ability to survive or grow despite being exposed to antibiotics designed to kill them.

Antibiotics save lives, but any time antibiotics are used, they can contribute to the development and spread of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance spreads to bacteria through people, animals, and the environment. Improving antibiotic use, including reducing unnecessary use, can help stop resistance from spreading.

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

Antibiotic Resistance and Food Poisoning

If bacteria that cause food poisoning are antibiotic resistant, some antibiotics might not effectively treat the illness, which can lead to more costly treatments and higher risks for side effects.

People with symptoms of mild food poisoning usually do not need antibiotics to get better. However, people with severe infection may need to see a doctor, take antibiotics, or be hospitalized.

Mild symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Severe symptoms include:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • High fever (temperature over 102°F, measured by mouth)
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down (which can lead to dehydration)
  • Signs of dehydration, including little or no urination, a very dry mouth and throat, or feeling dizzy when standing up
  • Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days

Who Is at Higher Risk for Food Poisoning

Those at higher risk include adults aged 65 and older, children younger than 5 years, people who have health problems or take medicines that lower the body’s ability to fight germs and sickness, and pregnant women. These groups are at risk for severe symptoms or complications from food poisoning, including illnesses caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Food and Food Animals

Animals, like people, carry bacteria in their guts. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria present in the guts of animals can get in food in several ways:

  • When animals are slaughtered and processed for food, resistant bacteria can contaminate meat or other animal products.
  • Animal feces/excrement (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 feces/excrement.

Transmission of Antibiotic-Resistant Intestinal Infections to People

People can get antibiotic-resistant intestinal 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. Infections can also spread between people.

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

Protect Yourself and Your Family

  • When preparing food, follow the four steps to food safety:
    • Clean. Wash your hands before and after touching uncooked eggs or raw meat, poultry (like chicken and turkey), seafood, or their juices. 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 egg dishes; and 165°F for poultry, including ground chicken and turkey. Get safe cooking temperaturesexternal icon for other foods.
    • Chill. Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and refrigerate foods within 2 hours of cooking. Refrigerate within 1 hour if food is exposed to temperatures above 90°F (like a hot car or picnic).
  • When around pets and other animals:
    • Wash your hands after touching them, their food, water, poop, belongings (such as toys and bowls), or habitats (such as beds, cages, tanks, coops, stalls, and barns).
    • Report suspected illness from food to your local health department.
    • Review CDC’s Travelers’ Health recommendations when preparing for international travel.

To help slow the spread of antibiotic resistance, take antibiotics only when needed, and take them exactly as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

What CDC Is Doing

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

  • Tracking antibiotic-resistant infections and studying how resistance emerges and spreads.
  • Detecting and investigating antibiotic-resistant outbreaks quickly to identify their sources and stop 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.
  • Ensuring veterinarians, livestock and poultry producers, and other animal industries such as aquaculture have tools, information, and training around antibiotic use.
  • Supporting the important work that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture are doing to improve antibiotic useexternal icon in veterinary medicine and agriculture.