Antibiotic resistance is lower in Staphylococcus aureus isolated from antibiotic-free raw meat as compared to conventional raw meat

The frequent use of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance in bacteria, resulting in an increase in infections that are difficult to treat. Livestock are commonly administered antibiotics in their feed, but there is current interest in raising animals that are only administered antibiotics during active infections. Staphylococcus aureus (SA) is a common pathogen of both humans and livestock raised for human consumption. SA has achieved high levels of antibiotic resistance, but the origins and locations of resistance selection are poorly understood. We determined the prevalence of SA and MRSA in conventional and antibiotic-free (AF) meat products, and also measured rates of antibiotic resistance in these isolates. We isolated SA from raw conventional turkey, chicken, beef, and pork samples and also from AF chicken and turkey samples. We found that SA contamination was common, with an overall prevalence of 22.6% (range of 2.8–30.8%) in conventional meats and 13.0% (range of 12.5–13.2%) in AF poultry meats. MRSA was isolated from 15.7% of conventional raw meats (range of 2.8–20.4%) but not from AF-free meats. The degree of antibiotic resistance in conventional poultry products was significantly higher vs AF poultry products for a number of different antibiotics, and while multi-drug resistant strains were relatively common in conventional meats none were detected in AF meats. The use of antibiotics in livestock contributes to high levels of antibiotic resistance in SA found in meat products. Our results support the use of AF conditions for livestock in order to prevent antibiotic resistance development in SA.