There’s no direct link yet between Escherichia coli in meat and poultry and urinary tract infections, but three of six the most common E. coli genotypes in humans were found in retail meat samples.

Attendees of the annual IDWeek in San Diego, sponsored by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the HIV Medicine Association and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA), heard results from research comparing urine samples from patients with urinary tract infections with meat purchased from California retail stores.

Reina Yamaji of the University of California- Berkeley reported nearly 25 percent of the meat and poultry samples tested for the research project contained the same genotypes as the human urine samples.

Yamaji counted 72 E. coli genotypes in meat sold at retail and 49 that were unique to the patients. But, the meat and poultry samples and urine samples had 12 genotypes in common.

Amee Manges with the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health said the new research falls short of establishing a direct link.

Researchers tested urine samples from 1,020 patients and chicken breasts, ground turkey, ground beef, and pork chops from 200 purchases at Northern California retail stores.

A 2009 study found E. coli as the most common species involved in urinary tract infections, occurring in 21 percent of the instances.

The meat was positive for E. coli in 38 percent of the samples. Ground turkey and chicken breasts tested positive for E. coli 73 and 43 percent of the time, respectively.

The E. coli contamination rate for ground beef was 18 percent and 15 percent for pork chops. When cooked with sufficient heat, E. coli-contaminated meat and poultry are safe to eat. However, not properly cooked, the E. coli can survive and cause infection in humans.

In future research, genome sequencing will be used to explore the links between E. coli found in meat and the UTI patients’ urine. Scientists expect to eventually connect what goes down on the farm with infected human bladders.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)