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Antimicrobial resistance

Professor Guy Poppy, the FSA’s Chief Scientific Adviser, published the latest edition of his Science Report in September, which examines the science behind antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and presents the latest findings around the role that food plays in this problem [4].

The report identifies how AMR microbes can be spread via food:

• Faecal contamination when the animal is slaughtered could transfer AMR microbes to meat and meat products.

• Products that come from plants, but also shellfish, can become contaminated if the water used to grow them is contaminated with sources of AMR microbes, such as human and/or animal faeces.

• Food may be contaminated by AMR microbes in the environment.

• When food is handled, cross-contamination can occur when AMR bacteria spread from one type of food to another.

Pathogenic and non-pathogenic microbes in food may carry AMR genes that can be spread to other bacteria in the human gut.

The FSA continues to promote its 4Cs (cleaning, avoiding cross-contamination, cooking and chilling) food hygiene message to both industry and consumers. Greater awareness of good hygiene practices can minimise the risk of spreading AMR microbes. For example, fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly and/ or peeled if they are to be consumed raw, unless otherwise indicated. Also, consumer demand for burgers cooked ‘rare’ and for lightly cooked pork and poultry products may increase the risk of exposure to AMR microbes.

A colistin resistant gene has been reported in E. coli and Salmonella in pigs in several European countries including the UK.

Testing for colistin resistance genes in E. coli in raw pork beef and poultry meat is now underway in the UK.

 A UK-wide survey between 2014 and 2015 found high levels of resistance to five classes of antibiotics in Campylobacter. This is of particular concern, given that Campylobacter was found in 73% of the retail chicken samples tested. With around 5% of isolates showing multi-resistance, and with 900 million chickens produced in 2014, there could potentially be millions of chickens with multi-resistant Campylobacter. The poultry industry is taking active steps to address these issues. For example, in 2011 the British Poultry Council formed an Antibiotic Stewardship Scheme that advocates responsible use of antibiotics. Data collected by this scheme shows that overall antibiotic usage in the poultry industry reduced by 44% between 2012 and 2015.

Further data are needed on the prevalence, levels, and movement of resistant microbes and genes throughout the food supply chain, particularly in fresh produce (salads, fruit and vegetables) that is consumed raw.

The FSA is taking steps to reduce the risk to consumers from AMR microbes in food including:

• Working with industry to develop action plans to reduce the levels of AMR in food;

• independent surveillance of AMR levels in food; and;

• working with consumers to raise awareness of the issue of AMR, and provide practical advice.

The report concludes that while the problem of AMR cannot be eliminated, its development can be slowed by adopting a holistic approach throughout the food supply chain. Understanding how practices in farm animal husbandry, food handling and crop irrigation might affect the spread of AMR to our food is key.

References

4. https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/csa-amr-report.pdf



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