E. coli found in 40 percent of supermarket meat samples

Posted: 17 April 2023 | | No comments yet

A study of Spanish meat has detected multi-drug resistant bacteria in 40 percent of supermarket meat samples.

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The results of a recent study have found there to be multidrug-resistant E. coli in 40 percent of tested supermarket meat samples.

According to the researchers, “superbugs” were present in chicken, turkey, beef and pork in meat samples taken from Spanish supermarkets.

Findings were revealed at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases’ congress which occurred between  15-18 April 2023.

E. coli is a type of bacteria that normally lives in the intestines of healthy people and animals however, according to the Mayo Clinic, certain strains can cause severe stomach cramps, bloody diarrhoea and vomiting.

Spanish researchers have said that antibiotic resistance is reaching “dangerously high levels” around the world. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that there are 2.8 million  antimicrobial resistance infections each year in the US.

What’s more, the researchers have claimed that drug-resistant infections kill an estimated 700,000 people a year globally and this figure projected to rise to 10 million by 2050 if no action is taken.

Dr Azucena Mora Gutiérrez and Dr Vanesa García Menéndez, from the University of Santiago de Compostela-Lugo, Lugo, Spain, worked with colleagues from other research centres to design a series of experiments to assess the levels of multidrug-resistant and extraintestinal pathogenic Enterobacteriaceae (Klebsiella pneumoniae, E. coli and other bacteria that can cause multidrug-resistant infections such as sepsis or urinary tract infections) in meat on sale in Spanish supermarkets.

Analysing a total of 100 meat products comprised of chicken, turkey, beef and pork (25 samples each), the researchers chose the meat products at random from supermarkets in Oviedo during 2020.

Results of the study found that 73 percent of the meat products contained levels of E. coli that were within food safety limits.

However, 49 percent were found to contain multi-drug resistant and/or potentially pathogenic E. coli.  Of this percentage, 82 E. coli isolates were recovered and characterised. Additionally, 12 K. pneumoniae isolates were recovered from 10 of the 100 meat products (seven chicken, two turkey and one pork).

Overall, 40 percent of the meat products contained multidrug-resistant E. coli (56 of the 82 E. coli characterised). These included E. coli that produced extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs), enzymes that confer resistance to most beta-lactam antibiotics, including penicillins, cephalosporins and the monobactam aztreonam.

The percentage of positive samples for the carriage of ESBL-producing E. coli per meat type was: 68 percent turkey, 56 percent chicken, 16 percent beef and 12 percent pork. The researchers have said that the higher presence of ESBL-producing E. coli strains in poultry compared to other types of meat is “likely due to differences in production and slaughter”.

“Farm-to-fork interventions must be a priority to protect the consumer. For example, implementation of surveillance lab methods to allow further study of high-risk bacteria (in farm animals and meat) and their evolution due to the latest EU restriction programmes on antibiotic use in veterinary medicine,” said Dr Mora Gutiérrez

“Strategies at farm level, such as vaccines, to reduce the presence of specific multidrug-resistant and pathogenic bacteria in food-producing animals, which would reduce the meat carriage and consumer risk.”

Evaluating the findings of the study, Dr Mora Gutiérrez explained that the consumer “plays a key role in food safety through proper food handling” and they should take note of the advice given regarding not breaking the cold chain from the supermarket to home. Consumers should also cook meat thoroughly, store it properly and disinfect utensils used to prepare raw meat to avoid cross-contamination so that eating meat “becomes a pleasure” and has “zero risk”.

Following the study, the researchers have called for regular assessment levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including ExPEC E. coli, in meat products.

To read the complete findings of the study, click here.

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