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A new study has exposed a bacteria in some meat products sold in Spain. Fotolia - AdobeStock
Superbug contamination found in 40% of meat products sold in Spain, study finds

Superbug contamination found in 40% of meat products sold in Spain, study finds

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The university researchers found antibiotic-immune 'Escherichia coli' in samples of supermarket chicken, turkey, beef and pork products analysed

Doménico Chiappe

Madrid

Monday, 17 April 2023, 13:00

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A bacteria that causes serious infections in humans and is resistant to antibiotics has been found in 40% of meat samples in Spanish supermarkets, according to a worrying new study.

University of Santiago de Compostela researchers analysed 100 randomly selected meat products made from chicken, turkey, beef and pork and found traces of 'Klebsiella pneumoniae' and 'Escherichia coli', which cause sepsis or urinary tract infections.

The results, which also assessed the drug resistance capacity of the bacteria found, showed that 40% of the products tested "contained multidrug-resistant 'E. coli'".

An estimated 10 million people could expected to die from the ultra-resistant bacteria by 2050 if no action was taken, the report's authors warned.

The sampling was carried out in "supermarket chains throughout Spain," Azucena Mora, scientific director of the Biomedicine and Veterinary Centre at the University of Santiago de Compostela, and co-author of the study, told SUR.

Although most of the products had levels of 'E. coli' within "safety limits", almost half contained the bacterium with mutations that made it resistant to antibiotics.

The "worrying" issue was not the levels of "legally permitted micro-organisms, but the existence of superbugs" and the antibiotic resistance, not the meat itself.

Such "potentially pathogenic" agents have developed "enzymes that confer resistance to most antibiotics, such as penicillins, cephalosporins and the monobactam aztreonam", the study explained.

A small percentage (1%) were immune even to colistin, "an antibiotic of last resort used to treat infections caused by bacteria resistant to all others".

The superbugs found in meat products can cause diseases inside and outside the intestinal tract, such as neonatal meningitis, or urinary tract infections.

Of the contaminated products, the vast majority were made from turkey and chicken, and to a lesser extent beef and pork.

"Overall the microbiological quality of the food in the sample is very good, but superbugs may be present. We have to monitor them and educate the consumer to avoid their dissemination or acquisition," warned Mora.

"We are used to controlling classical food pathogens such as 'Salmonella', 'Campylobacter' or 'Listeria monocytogenes'. However, multi-resistant bacteria present in food must be monitored as potential pathogens".

To prevent the risk meat should be cooked well, and food should be stored properly.

However Mora reassured: "the vast majority of meat products consumed in Europe are within microbiologically healthy limits, but when improper handling happens, levels can be above these limits".

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