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Microbes in US meat, but no MRSA

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The ICAAC-IDSA meeting has ended, but there are still many abstracts that I have not been through. While I pore over them, though, an interesting paper has just been published that somewhat contradicts earlier research on the presence of MRSA in meat. (Earlier posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

The researchers, from the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital, bought ground beef, boneless chicken breasts and pork chops from 10 stores in and around Providence. Two stores offered both conventional and “natural” choices, so they bought both, giving them 36 (=[10+2]x3) samples all told. They cultured for MRSA, vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus, extended-spectrum beta-lactamase producing Gram-negative bacteria and E. coli 0157:H7.

And they found… almost nothing. Only one samples grew a resistant microbe, the ESBL Gram-negative Serratia fonticola. A secnd level of testing, however, uncovered four samples carrying S. aureus — but all methicillin-sensitive, not MRSA.

So are we in the clear? Not necessarily. It is, as they say themselves, as small study, in which only a third of the samples were pork, though pigs are the animals most associated with MRSA via the strain ST398. And the presence of S. fonticola is troubling, because it not only causes disease directly (in animals and in humans), but also harbors a plasmid that can transfer resistance to other bacterial strains.

Nevertheless, it is a comforting reminder that, though MRSA has been found in meat, it has not been found everywhere. (Or at least, not in Providence.) Still, we shouldn’t let our personal vigilance lapse. The hypothetical danger from MRSA in meat is not that we’ll swallow it, but rather that we’ll be colonized if we handle the raw meat without being careful enough about kitchen hygiene. So keep raw meat away from other food, wash your cutting boards and counters, and (say it with me, now), wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.

The cite is: Philip A. Chan, Sarah E. Wakeman, Adele Angelone and Leonard A. Mermel, Investigation of multi-drug resistant microbes in retail meats. Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment, Vol.6 (3&4), July-October 2008.

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