Potentially deadly drug-resistant “superbugs” were found in nearly half of supermarket meat samples analyzed by scientists.
Multidrug-resistant E. coli was present in 40 percent of chicken, turkey, beef and pork sold in stores in Spain.
E. coli strains that can cause serious infections in humans were also “highly prevalent.”
Scientists say antibiotic resistance is reaching “dangerously high” levels around the world.
Drug-resistant infections kill an estimated 700,000 people each year globally, and this number is expected to rise to 10 million by 2050 if no action is taken.
About half of the meat in the supermarket was found to contain resistant bacteria, including E. coli (file photo)
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies antibiotic resistance as one of the greatest public health threats facing humanity.
Multidrug-resistant bacteria can spread from animals to humans through the food chain, but due to commercial sensitivities, data on the levels of antibiotic-resistant insects in food is not widely available.
Spanish scientists designed a series of experiments to accurately assess the levels of multidrug-resistant and extra-intestinal pathogenic Enterobacteriaceae – Klebsiella pneumonia, E. coli and other bacteria that can cause multidrug-resistant infections such as sepsis or urinary tract infections (UTIs) – in meat for sale.
They analyzed 100 meat products – 25 each from chicken, turkey, beef and pork – chosen at random from supermarkets in Oviedo in 2020.
The majority of meat products (73 percent) contained levels of E. coli that were within food safety limits.
However, nearly half (49 percent) contained multidrug-resistant and/or potentially pathogenic E. coli. From this, 82 E. coli isolates were recovered and characterized.
In addition, about ten K. pneumonia isolates were found from 10 of the 100 meat products, seven of which were chicken.
Forty out of 100 meat products contain multi-resistant E. coli. Positive samples for the carriage of ESBL-producing E. coli were highest in turkey (68 percent) and chicken (56 percent).
The researchers said the higher presence of ESBL-producing E. coli strains in poultry compared to other meats is likely due to differences in production and slaughter.
More than a quarter of meat products (27 percent) contained potentially pathogenic extra-intestinal E. coli (ExPEC).
The researchers explained that ExPEC possesses genes that allow them to cause disease outside the gastrointestinal tract.
Dr. Azucena Mora Gutiérrez said ExPEC causes the vast majority of urinary tract infections (UTIs), is a leading cause of sepsis and is the second most common cause of neonatal meningitis.
And one of the meat products contained E. coli with the mcr-1 gene that confers resistance to colistin, an antibiotic of last resort used to treat infections caused by bacteria that are resistant to all other antibiotics.
The research team, who reported high levels of bacteria potentially causing serious human infections in chicken and turkey in a previous study, say the new findings show shoppers may also be exposed to such bacteria through beef and pork.
They called for regular assessments of levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including ExPEC E. coli, in meat products.
Dr. Mora, from the University of Santiago de Compostela, said: “Farm-to-fork interventions must be a priority to protect consumers.
“For example, implementation of surveillance laboratory methods to enable further research on high-risk bacteria in farm animals and meat and their evolution as a result of the latest EU restrictions on antibiotic use in veterinary medicine.
“Farm-level strategies, such as vaccines, to reduce the presence of specific multidrug-resistant and pathogenic bacteria in food-producing animals, which would reduce meat transport and risk to consumers.”
She added: “The consumer plays a key role in food safety through proper food handling.
“Advice to consumers include not breaking the cold chain from the supermarket to home, cooking meat thoroughly, refrigerating it properly, and using knives, cutting boards and other cookware used to properly handle raw meat. way to disinfect to prevent cross-contamination.
“With these measures, eating meat becomes a pleasure and zero risk.”
The findings will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Denmark.