Researchers have found bacteria often associated with hospital infections in meat samples from markets in Peru.

The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) led the study, published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology, which detected 12 Acinetobacter spp. isolates in five different beef samples from two markets in Peru.

Scientists said results suggest raw meat can act as a reservoir for the pathogenic bacteria potentially posing a risk to public health. The team analyzed bacteria from 138 meat samples of poultry, swine and beef picked from six traditional markets in Lima, Peru, from July to August 2012.

Acinetobacter baumannii has been isolated from soil, water and foods including meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, raising concerns food could be a potential source of infection to humans, particularly in healthcare settings. Acinetobacter includes a group of bacteria commonly found in soil and water.

Bacteria belonging to the ACB complex (Acinetobacter calcoaceticus-Acinetobacter baumannii) have become a threat in hospitals, because of ability to acquire resistance to multiple antimicrobial drugs and disinfectants and survive hospital environments, according to the study. Pathogenic Acinetobacter species have also been found in food and food-producing animals.

Of the Acinetobacter isolates all but one belonged to the ACB complex: nine were Acinetobacter pittii, one was Acinetobacter baumannii and the other was Acinetobacter dijkshoorniae. The remaining strain could not be identified at species level but close relatedness to Acinetobacter bereziniae was suggested.

Acinetobacter isolates from meat were not multidrug resistant and prevalence was low.

Ignasi Roca, ISGlobal researcher and study coordinator, said identifying bacteria of the ACB group in meat samples was worrying, since they are usually found in clinical settings.

“Although all of the isolates were susceptible to clinically relevant antibiotics, and their overall prevalence was low, these results suggest that raw meat may represent a reservoir for Acinetobacter transmission to humans,” he said.

Meat samples were cultured in Lysogeny and Selenite broths followed by screening of Gram-negative bacteria in selective media. Bacterial isolates were identified by matrix-assisted laser desorption ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS) and DNA-based methods and assessed for clonal relatedness and antimicrobial susceptibility.

Six isolates were further studied and some were associated with novel multilocus sequence typing (MLST) profiles.

Acinetobacter baumannii accounts for about 80 percent of reported infections. Outbreaks typically occur in intensive care units and healthcare settings with very ill patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A 2013 CDC report highlighted multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter as a serious threat that causes 7,000 infections and 500 deaths in the United States each year.

Acinetobacter is spread by contact with a person or environment that has the bacteria. Symptoms of infection can appear from four to 40 days after exposure to the bacteria but usually within about 12 days.

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