MID-CITY — I’ll have a burger with lettuce and tomatoes, hold the superbug.
In an effort to stop the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica (along with the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Westwood) is now serving antibiotic-free chicken breasts, beef patties and ground beef.
About 30 percent of the meat served at the hospitals is antibiotic-free, said Patricia Oliver, UCLA Health System’s director of nutrition services. In the next three to six months she hopes half the meat will be without antibiotics.
Farmers have been giving their animals antibiotics for years to boost their growth and prevent diseases but, said Dr. Daniel Uslan, director of the antimicrobial stewardship program, they also contribute to bacteria’s growing resistance to drugs.
While antibiotics do kill off many of the germs, those that survive pass on their genes creating stronger and more prevalent drug-resistant bacteria.
Dining on meat from animals treated with antibiotics could put the eater at greater risk of ingesting resistant germs, said Uslan, who’s begun eating antibiotic-free meat himself.
“The biggest contribution to resistance among humans is overuse in humans,” Uslan said. “Doctors and their patients need to take responsibility and step up and use antibiotics appropriately. But there’s no doubt that the role of antibiotics in agriculture is a major contributor and that also needs to be done away with at the same time.”
UCLA is seeing a bump in cases of resistant germs, Uslan said, but that’s no different from most other places in the world.
“Certainly we are reaching a public health crisis,” he said. “So that’s not unique to us.”
UCLA is adding one cut of meat at a time to the antibiotic-free list, Oliver said.
The challenge, she said, is finding meat that is financially feasible and also hits the hospitals’ other requirements.
“A lot of people think since they can just go to Whole Foods and get antibiotic-free meat, why can’t they serve it here?,” Oliver said. “Price was a big issue, also getting it through a UCLA-approved vendor. And the University of California has a sustainability policy.”
The university system has asked that by 2020 all of its affiliates make sustainable food purchases 20 percent of the time, Oliver said. The UCLA Health Systems hit that mark last year, when 24 percent of their purchases were sustainable.
Salmon is the most popular dish at the hospitals, she said, but artichoke chicken, another hot item, is made with the now-antibiotic-free breast. The hospitals serve about 700 pounds of chicken breast each week.
“We’re looking at some other products,” Oliver said. “I would say that within the next couple of months our chicken quarters — which we use quite a bit of — stew meat, stew beef and tri-tip, will also be antibiotic-free, so we’re moving forward.”