All meat, poultry and dairy foods sold in the U.S. are free of antibiotic residues, as required by federal law - whether or not the food is labeled “antibiotic-free.”

Sometimes farm animals get sick, just like people. When that happens, farmers consult with their veterinarians to determine the best treatment options. Farmers are also collaborating with researchers to develop natural alternatives to antibiotics.

“When our animals get sick, we need to be able to treat them. That’s not a good quality of life for that animal if they are living with an illness and we can’t treat it,” says Dr. Kristen Clark, a veterinarian and director of the Minnesota One Health Antibiotic Stewardship Collaborative at the University of Minnesota.

If a farm animal gets sick and needs antibiotics, farmers must follow strict U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for antibiotic usage, including the proper dosage, duration and withdrawal time – or the time between when the animal is treated and when it can go to market.

Farmers can only purchase medically important antibiotics from a licensed pharmacy with a veterinarian’s prescription, as required by the FDA.

As an added layer of protection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) routinely samples meat, dairy and poultry products to ensure they are free of antibiotic residues.

In the very rare case when a product tests positive for antibiotic residues, it is removed from the food supply chain and never goes to market. This protects the food system, public health and you personally. 

“We have the safest food supply in the world,” Clark says. “We have very safe food, and using antibiotics responsibly and keeping our animals healthy are important to farmers and veterinarians.”

How can farmers reduce antibiotic usage in agriculture?

Farmers and veterinarians are making progress in reducing antibiotic usage in agriculture. Since 2015, sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials for food-producing animals have dropped 36%, the FDA reports.

Farmers work closely with their veterinarians to protect animal health and overall food safety, using the latest science to guide decisions.

Farmers take precautions - such as improved animal-care practices, vaccines and strict biosecurity protocols - to help animals stay healthy so they don’t need antibiotics in the first place.

Farmers and veterinarians are also exploring alternatives to antibiotics, such as probiotics in animal feed. “This is definitely an area that a lot of research and education efforts are being put into,” Clark says.

“Farmers want to do the right thing,” Clark says. “They truly care about their animals and the food that they produce. Their families eat that food too. We all want animals to be cared for appropriately and with good welfare and safe and healthy food in the process.”

How can I ensure meat is safe to eat?

Consumers have a role to play in protecting food safety. To ensure that meat and poultry products are safe to eat, follow the basic steps for safe meat handling: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Use clean utensils and cooking surfaces when cooking. Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods. Cook to a food-safe temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. And chill leftovers within two hours.

In addition, be sure to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before and after handling food.

Remember, meat is tested to ensure that it is antibiotic-free. You don’t have to worry about cooking to “destroy antibiotics” or about antibiotics affecting human health because they aren’t there in the first place.

If you have questions about food safety at home, visit

To learn more about how farmers work to ensure meat quality, food safety and farm animal care, visit “Real Farmers. Real Food. Real Meat.”

Learn more about author Teresa Bjork here.

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