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News Round-Up: Food, Foodborne Illness, And Antibiotic Resistance In Food

• Maryn McKenna via

OK, still catching up. Today: food, foodborne illness, and antibiotic use and resistance in food — lots of news in a multi-item rundown. (Under normal circumstances, I’d give each of these items a post of its own; but since they all happened in the past few weeks, it seems better to note them and move on.)

First, foodborne illness broadly: Two weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its annual report card on food safety and foodborne illness, and the news was not encouraging. The CDC project FoodNet keeps track of illnesses caused by 10 disease organisms transmitted by food (Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Cyclospora, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli O157 and non-O157, Shigella, Vibrio, and Yersinia) in seven states plus certain counties in three additional states. The CDC found that, when the 2012 data was compared with the years 2006-2008,  there was no significant change in the occurrence of infections from most of those organisms. Infections from O157 E. coli rose again, after trending slightly down, and infections from two other organisms went up significantly: Campylobacter, carried on chicken, rose 14 percent, and Vibrio, primarily in shellfish, rose 43 percent. With what seems like understatement, the CDC said: “These findings highlight the need to continue to identify and address food safety gaps that can be targeted for action by the food industry and regulatory authorities.”

Next, antibiotic resistance in food. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ve seen me talk about the annual report issued by the federal government which reveals antibiotic-resistant organisms in people, animals and meat. The report is called NARMS for the surveillance project that produces it, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System, and every year that it has come out, it has reported increasing rates of at least some antibiotic resistant organisms on some foods. I’ve written about it for the last three years. Now the nonprofit Environmental Working Group has done a lengthy analysis of the data from the last NARMS report, titled “Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets.” It should make really striking reading for anyone to whom this issue is new; and even if you’re familiar with the problem, it is a strong addition to the accumulating evidence that farm antibiotic use is making foods a health risk. Excerpting their findings:

government tests of raw supermarket meat … detected antibiotic-resistant bacteria in: 81 percent of ground turkey, 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef, 39 percent of chicken breasts, wings and things. 9 percent of raw chicken samples and 10 percent of raw ground turkey sampled from retail supermarkets in 2011 were tainted with a superbug version of Salmonella bacteria. a superbug version of the Campylobacter jejuni microbe was detected on 26 percent of raw chicken pieces. Raw turkey samples contained numerically fewer of these microbes, but 100 percent of those examined were antibiotic resistant.

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