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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Antimicrobial Resistant Bacteria in Animals and Food

What are bacteria?

Bacteria are single celled living organisms invisible to the naked eye that can be found everywhere. Most bacteria are helpful but some can be harmful and cause illness in people and animals.

What are antimicrobial drugs?

Antimicrobial drugs are chemicals which can kill or limit the growth of microbes like bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Antimicrobials are used for many purposes including cleaning surfaces; sterilizing instruments used in hospitals, and doctors’, dentists’, and veterinarians’ offices; and treating infections in people and animals.

Why are antimicrobial drugs important for animal health?

Antimicrobial drugs are an important tool to keep animals healthy. They are used to treat, control, and prevent disease.

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria or other microbes continue to survive after being exposed to an antimicrobial drug. There are many ways that resistant bacteria can protect themselves from antimicrobial drugs. For example, bacteria can destroy the drug or they can keep the drug from entering the bacterial cell. Once bacteria become resistant to a particular drug, the continued use of that drug may increase the number of resistant bacteria. Therefore, all uses of antimicrobial drugs, including use in people and animals, can add to the emergence of antimicrobial resistance.

Resistant bacteria spread in many ways, including from the environment to people, from people to the environment, from people to animals, and from animals to people. The use of antibiotics in any part of this “resistance web” potentially affects resistant bacteria in other parts of the web.

How can you protect yourself?

Many steps are taken during food processing and storage that help to limit the number of bacteria in food. These steps also help limit the number of resistant bacteria in food.

Things you can do to help decrease the chance of spreading bacteria through the food you eat include:

Thoroughly cook meat, poultry and eggs. If you are in a restaurant, send back all undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs to the kitchen and have them cooked longer.

Don’t eat or drink foods that have uncooked eggs or unpasteurized milk in them.

Wash all kitchen work areas and utensils with soap and water right away after you have used them for cooking raw meat or poultry.

Always wash your hands after touching animals, raw meat or poultry, pet foods, or pet treats.

What does FDA do to keep your food safe from antimicrobial resistant bacteria?

We inspect food production processes in the United States.

We inspect foods that come to the United States from other countries.

We make sure that restaurants and factories that make different foods handle food properly.

We look for antimicrobial resistant bacteria in meat sold in stores, in food animals, and in people.

We make sure that animal drugs, including antibiotics, are safe and work the way they’re supposed to when used to treat food animals.

We make sure that animal drugs that are unsafe or don’t work are not approved for use.

We work with others to find ways to use animal drugs to make sure animals are healthy and produce safe food for us.

We work with veterinarians and food producers to use antimicrobials wisely to slow down the development of antimicrobial resistant bacteria in food animals. Using these drugs wisely means that the drugs are only used when necessary and in the proper way.