What Does “No Antibiotics” Really Mean?

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Shopping for meat at the grocery store is more confusing than ever. Meat labeling has become so complicated that it leaves us, the consumer, wondering which meat is best to purchase.

Shopping for meat? Do you know what "Antibiotic Free" really means? Check out this post to know what you are really buying.

Growing up in Spain, my grandmother and I visited the butcher once or twice per week, where he would proceed to explain about which cuts were fresh that week, which farm they came from, and how to best cook the meat in a recipe. Since my grandfather had a small chicken farm, we rarely had to purchase chicken at the store, so the concept of antibiotics isn’t something I knew anything about until much later in life when I moved to the United States and had to purchase meat at our local supermarket.

Today, I want to share with you what the labels mean so you can feel good about your purchases.

Shopping for meat? Do you know what "Antibiotic Free" really means? Check out this post to know what you are really buying.

To learn how to read meat labels and what those “No Antibiotic” claims on the label mean, I got the information I needed from Consumer Reports, my go-to source for well-researched and thorough consumer information. Consumer Reports is non-profit, independent organization that has been working side by side with consumers for over 80 years. CR does rigorous testing and research to keep consumers informed about issues that impact their lives – and food labeling is just one example.

While one would expect fresh meat labels to have information about how the meat was sourced, you’ll also find “raised without antibiotics” and “no antibiotic” claims on cans of soup and frozen entrees. This leaves us wondering why the other brands are not doing the same and if there is something wrong with unlabeled food items.

The issue is that animals are routinely fed food that contains antibiotics to prevent disease, which creates the bigger problem of antibiotic resistance–a crisis responsible for basic human antibiotics not working on common illnesses. Consumers don’t consume antibiotics when they eat meat. There are regulated withdrawal periods to prevent that from ever happening.

Many people believe that the “no antibiotic” label is merely a selling point for some brands. The reality is that the labeling of food is important when it comes to consumer buying decisions. In 2015, Consumer Reports found that 25 percent of food shoppers were buying no-antibiotic meat and poultry more often than in the previous year.

Given that more than 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on farm animals, whether regularly administered or via feed and water dosing, research shows that this is causing bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.

Why aren’t labels simpler to read? How do we decode them, and should one just buy organic?

Restaurant chains and supermarket brands are making all kinds of claims about whether their meat or poultry was raised with drugs. Although it’s beneficial for consumers to have no-antibiotic choices at restaurants and supermarkets, these different claims mean very different things. In some cases, you might think that the animals were not given antibiotics at all when in fact, they were.

To help you know exactly what you’re buying, Consumer Reports has spelled out the meaning behind some of the most common claims and policies and listed them from best to worst in this article so you can be informed.

As you can see, the terms are very similar and can be confusing to read, but understanding what the claims mean is possible.

In the year ahead, Consumer Reports plans to test more than 4,000 products, employing the expertise of hundreds of specially trained analysts, engineers, editors, researchers, product testers and experts. Consumer Reports also plans to continue to publish numerous reports on major consumer topics such as keeping your money safe, choosing smart healthcare options, and making sense of all the new gadgets and technologies. In addition, the organization will continue advocating for the protection of consumer rights.

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About MOMables

Laura Fuentes is the founder of MOMables and a mom to 3 kids. She's the Author of 3 cookbooks, has competed (and won!) on Food Network, is a TODAY Food contributor, has a column on the Huffington Post and creates recipes for numerous print magazines. She also produces recipe videos for the MOMables YouTube Channel.