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Turkey meat too is often contaminated with antimicrobial-resistant germs

06/2012, 21.02.2012

The BfR has assessed the results of the national zoonosis monitoring programme conducted in 2010.

The zoonosis monitoring programme 2010, which investigated turkeys and turkey meat in particular, confirms the frequent presence of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria along the food chain. Turkey meat was contaminated with Salmonella, Campylobacter and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) which were frequently resistant to antimicrobials. "The germs originate from production animal populations and are transmitted to the meat during the slaughter process and food processing", says BfR President Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. In the opinion of the BfR, these findings call for measures at several levels. Since antimicrobial-resistant germs can pose a health risk, efforts must be made to avoid the spread of resistant bacteria along the food chain.

As part of the zoonosis monitoring programme 2010, the BfR tested 3,748 isolates of different bacterial species for their resistance to antimicrobial substances and evaluated them on the basis of epidemiological criteria. These criteria enable early recognition of deviations from the so-called wild type population, a population that has not acquired resistance mechanisms. These evaluations do not directly aim to foresee the treatability of an infection. The isolates originated from samples of turkey, broiler and fattening calf populations as well as from turkey meat, raw milk and eggs.

There were major differences between animal groups and foods regarding their contamination with resistant bacteria: more than 90 % of the E. coli isolates from turkey, broiler or fattening calf populations as well as from turkey meat were resistant to at least one, and often several, antimicrobial substance classes. In contrast, the rates of resistance of E. coli from raw milk and from laying hen populations were found to be lower (24 and 40 % respectively). Salmonella isolates from broiler populations were less often resistant compared to those of turkey populations.

Compared to the previous year, an increase in the resistance rates to third generation cephalosporins was found for E. coli and Salmonella in laying hen, broiler and fattening calf populations as well as turkey meat. For Salmonella and E. coli in broiler populations and from turkey meat, the resistance rates to fluoroquinolones remained high as had been the case in the zoonosis monitoring programme 2009. Resistance to fluoroquinolones was also frequently found in Salmonella and E. coli from broiler meat which was only tested in 2009. Fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins are critically important for the treatment of infections in humans. The spread of bacteria that are resistant to these antimicrobials can therefore have major consequences for public health.

As part of its resistance studies, the BfR also found a particularly resistant strain of Salmonella Kentucky in turkey meat. Characterised by high-level and stable resistance to fluoroquinolones, this strain has led to disease in humans in several European member states. Early studies of the National Reference Laboratory for Salmonella at the BfR showed that the strain is identical with isolates from other EU member states.

More than 70 % of Campylobacter jejuni and 90 % of Campylobacter coli isolates from turkey populations and turkey meat were resistant to at least one class of antimicrobials. Resistance to fluoroquinolones was frequently found in both types. Infections with Campylobacter have for many years been the main cause of bacterial diarrhoea in humans. Poultry meat has been identified as one of the most important sources for such infections.

Almost all MRSA isolates from turkey populations and turkey meat showed, apart from resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics, also one or several resistances to other classes of drugs. The presence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in animal populations notably leads to frequent colonisation with MSRA for those working with production animals. However, in the current estimation of the BfR, foods produced from these animals only play a minor role in the spread of production animal-associated MRSA due to the low numbers of bacteria numbers involved.

Resistant bacteria in animal production can reach consumers via contact with animals and via contaminated animal and plant-derived foods. Consumers can protect themselves against resistant and pathogenic bacteria in foods by ensuring high kitchen hygiene standards. The BfR recommends to only eat meat that has been thoroughly cooked.

Zoonoses are diseases which can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa. As part of zoonosis monitoring, yearly changing programmes ensure that important areas of food production are tested for zoonosis pathogens, on the basis of random samples. The plan for the annual monitoring programme since 2009 is drawn up by the BfR and coordinated with the federal and state authorities. Apart from the type and scope of sampling, this plan also specifies what test procedures are to be followed to ensure maximum comparability between the federal states and over the years. The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) coordinates reporting.

The detailed results of the zoonosis monitoring programme and the BfR assessment can be viewed here (german only).

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.