Kosher Chicken, E Coli and the Horace Mann Kid

What Does Study of Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Mean?


By Rita Rubin

Published November 01, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
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It’s a new, if still debatable, mystery of modern science: Why would kosher chickens harbor much higher levels of potentially dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria than nonkosher chickens?

The authors of a recent study that found this are just as stumped as anyone.

“Nobody expected it would be any higher than conventional chicken,” said lead author Jack Millman, a 17-year-old senior at Horace Mann School in the Bronx. Millman thought to investigate whether kosher food is healthier after his sister Jessie’s bat mitzvah in Israel a few years ago. His co-authors include his uncle, Bruce Hungate, a professor of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University, and Lance Price, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University.

Jack Millman
Jack Millman

The researchers published their study in F1000Research, a London-based online life sciences journal in which referees critique articles after they are posted online. The referees’ critiques are then posted alongside the original article, comments from registered users and revised versions of the original article based on the critiques. All versions of the article and accompanying critiques remain available and linked online.

The study Millman initiated, which analyzed 213 drumsticks from raw chickens, almost all of them bought from Manhattan stores, found higher levels of an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli bacteria in kosher chickens than in nonkosher chickens.

Still, no one is saying that religious Jews should give up one of the staples of Sabbath meals. It’s only one study, which will require replication to be confirmed. And some of the top scientists in the field say they’re hard-pressed to explain the finding.

“Why should the kosher chickens have any more [antibiotic resistant bacteria] than the conventional? What’s different?” asked Stuart Levy, director of the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance, at Tufts University School of Medicine. Levy, who keeps kosher, was among the first scientists to document the transfer of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from animals to farm workers.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a growing public health concern. Each year, at least 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 of them die, according to the Centers for Disease Control.


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