Prevalence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in retail chicken: comparing conventional, organic, kosher, and raised without antibiotics

Published by Ecoss on

Retail poultry products are known sources of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli, a major human health concern. Consumers have a range of choices for poultry, including conventional, organic, kosher, and raised without antibiotics (RWA) – designations that are perceived to indicate differences in quality and safety. However, whether these categories vary in the frequency of contamination with antibiotic-resistant E. coli is unknown. We examined the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant E. coli on raw chicken marketed as conventional, organic, kosher and RWA. From April – June 2012, we purchased 213 samples of raw chicken from 15 locations in the New York City metropolitan area. We screened E. coli isolates from each sample for resistance to 12 common antibiotics. Although the organic and RWA labels restrict the use of antibiotics, the frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli tended to be only slightly lower for RWA, and organic chicken was statistically indistinguishable from conventional products that have no restrictions. Kosher chicken had the highest frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli, nearly twice that of conventional products, a result that belies the historical roots of kosher as a means to ensure food safety. These results indicate that production methods influence the frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli on poultry products available to consumers. Future research to identify the specific practices that cause the high frequency of antibiotic-resistant E. coli in kosher chicken could promote efforts to reduce consumer exposure to this potential pathogen.