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Is the meat you eat safe?

Sunday - 1/8/2012, 11:59am  ET

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - The meat you eat could be hazardous to your health, and not just in calories or fat content.

New government regulations are limiting the amount and types of antibiotics that can be given to livestock and poultry. Antibiotic overuse in animals has been linked to outbreaks of "superbugs" -- bacterial infections in humans that are resistant to treatment.

Ensuring food safety at home comes down to one simple thing: keep things clean and don't cook meat too rare.

Sarah Klein, of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the most important step is to cook all meat thoroughly -- 160 degrees internal temperature for ground beef, 165 for ground turkey or chicken and 145 for pork, which needs to rest for three minutes or more after it is cooked.

Klein also says to remember all of those rules about kitchen hygiene while preparing meals to avoid cross-contamination. That means don't use the same spatula to flip a raw burger and to serve a cooked one. And don't use the same cutting board to slice raw chicken and chop veggies for your salad.

Also, start checking labels.

Klein, who is also an advisor to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says antibiotic use is allowed in organic food production, but it is carefully limited. Labels like "natural" or "hormone-free" have nothing to do with antibiotics. The only guarantee is to purchase meat and poultry labeled "antibiotic-free," a term which is regulated by the USDA, she says.

Theo Weening, global meat coordinator for Whole Foods Markets, says demand for antibiotic-free products is growing and sales are strong.

Whole Foods started carrying only antibiotic free meat and poultry throughout the chain in 2002. Nationally, the number of suppliers is expanding and more grocers are beginning to stock certified meat.

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