Food & Nutrition Health & Wellness

Farm antibiotic residue in food

It is not the first time that we have heard about the ill effects of food on humans. The rise in life-threatening diseases, heart ailments, gastrointestinal concerns and such has hurled in our faces an unfailing link of these ailments to the food we eat.

Though the health authorities believe that our food is generally safe to consume, we are now looking at supporting pieces of evidence that dig deeper to reveal this smoking gun to us.

The genesis

Bacteria are microscopic organisms in nature. They are abundant on the planet and are found everywhere except in those places that are clean and thoroughly sanitized. Most of these organisms play a positive role in our lives i.e. in terms of sustenance and continuity of all life forms. They also play a vital role in food production.

The effect of antibiotics on bacteria

But not all bacteria are benign. Pathogenic bacteria cause harm to our bodies. It is the biological activities of antibiotics that obstruct the growth of bacteria or exterminate it. Hence antibiotics treatments are used not just for bacterial infections in us humans but also to protect the health of animals raised for food.

This mishandling of antibiotics has given rise to antibiotic resistance in animal pathogens.  ABR causes some bacteria to become immune to the effects of the medication resulting in treatment failure. This way the efficacy of antibiotics subsides on sick animals. Furthermore, these ill animals, through the food chain become channels to transmit antibiotics to humans.

Use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and agriculture

The use of antibiotics and other such medicines is well-known in animal husbandry, poultry farming and the entire spectrum of the food chain. Animals that are cultured for food as also vegetables, are often given antibiotics to treat any disease or pests. These treatments are also given to boost their growth.

How do antibiotics residue (ABR) get there?

Though such preventive medicines have a positive effect, as mentioned before, the incorrect method and excessive use of these treatments lead to antibiotic buildup. The presence of such residue could contaminate food. The problem is not just in animal feeds, it is also in the soil, and water that we use for vegetation or that the livestock drink. Unhygienic conditions and poor sanitation in which our livestock are raised further aggravate the problem.

Regularly consuming such food invariably leads to health hazards which is today creating a crisis at a global level too.

Many countries have laid down strict rules for the use of antibiotics and withdrawal duration when the treatment is over. Despite that, non-conformity to these regulations poses a considerable setback as this compromises the quality of our food.

The cause of worry

It is the residue of antibiotics also known as ABR.  These are remnants of medication which is the result of its exploitative use to eliminate bacterial infection. This random overuse can lead to the surfacing of resistant germs or pathogenic bacteria that causes health worries.

What can be done?

The food industry must comply with the regulation laid down by the public health department

For our meat and veggies to be safe, surveillance of the food industry should be in place. Compliance with rules and dosage of antibiotics and other medication should be strictly followed by the industry and monitored by authorities.

The withdrawal period should be adhered to

Once an animal gets healthy and is off medication, there is a period during which the animal should not be slaughtered for food. The withdrawal period helps the internal system of livestock to be cleaned off all medication. Hence withdrawal period must be followed without exception.

Safe practices and hygienic conditions for livestock to be raised

Prudent use of antibiotics treatment along with a safe and hygienic environment is critical in ensuring the safety of these animals. Alternatives to antibiotics such as probiotics, vaccination, and such are recommended to reduce ABR.

Lastly, vigilance at our end while cooking meat: Store, Clean, Separate, Cook

  • Store meat in the freezer. Thaw a few hours before cooking not before.
  • Wash hands before handling raw foods to avoid contamination.
  • Ensure that you do not store raw and cooked/pre-cooked food in the same space.
  • Use different cutting boards to cut raw meat and any food that will be consumed without cooking.
  • Wash the cutting boards thoroughly before and after cooking.

As always, vigilance goes a long way in keeping us safe. That applies to food too. If you follow the preventive fail-safe practices while cooking at home you are safe.

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