Abstract Background We sought to determine if the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli differed across retail poultry products and among major production categories, including organic, “raised without antibiotics”, and conventional. Results We collected all available brands of retail chicken and turkey—including conventional, “raised without antibiotic”, and organic products—every two weeks from January to December 2012. In total, E. coli was recovered from 91% of 546 turkey products tested and 88% of 1367 chicken products tested. The proportion of samples contaminated with E. coli was similar across all three production categories. Resistance prevalence varied by meat type and was highest among E. coli isolates from turkey for the majority of antibiotics tested. In general, production category had little effect on resistance prevalence among E. coli isolates from chicken, although resistance to gentamicin and multidrug resistance did vary. In contrast, resistance prevalence was significantly higher for 6 of the antibiotics tested—and multidrug resistance—among isolates from conventional turkey products when compared to those labelled organic or “raised without antibiotics”. E. coli isolates from chicken varied strongly in resistance prevalence among different brands within each production category. Conclusion The high prevalence of resistance among E. coli isolates from conventionally-raised turkey meat suggests greater antimicrobial use in conventional turkey production as compared to “raised without antibiotics” and organic systems. However, among E. coli from chicken meat, resistance prevalence was more strongly linked to brand than to production category, which could be caused by brand-level differences during production and/or processing, including variations in antimicrobial use.
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