Levels of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) E. coli in fresh beef and pork are still low, according to a survey published by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The study, which was run between January and December 2019, focused on beef and pork. In total, 315 beef and 313 pork samples were collected and tested at retail in the United Kingdom.

Because of a technical issue with selective agar (culture growth medium) affecting some samples tested in December, it was decided to exclude all meat samples in that month from analysis.

Use of antibiotics is important in treating infections and preventing disease in animals and humans. However, overuse or misuse of antimicrobials in animal husbandry and healthcare is linked to the emergence and spread of microorganisms which are resistant to them, making treatment ineffective and posing a risk to public health, according to health officials and researchers..

Low levels detected
Mandatory requirements are set in European regulation for member states to report AMR data for Salmonella spp., Campylobacter jejuni, indicator commensal E. coli, AmpC and extended-spectrum betalactamase (ESBL) E. coli and carbapenemase producing E. coli.

Less than 1 percent of samples had E. coli with the types of AMR being monitored. Only one of the 289 beef samples and three of 285 pork samples were positive for AmpC- or ESBL-producing E. coli. None of the counts of E. coli in beef and pork were above the detection limit of 100 bacteria per gram of meat on the two agars used.

No carbapenemase-resistant and colistin-resistant E. coli were found in any samples. These are considered critically important antibiotics. None of the isolates were resistant to chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, gentamycin, nalidixic acid, temocillin or tigecycline.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) worked with Hallmark Veterinary Compliance Services, who arranged sampling, collection and posting of retail meat samples to APHA.

Meat samples came mainly from the UK, but also from Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, the EU (country not stated), France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Spain. The second highest number of beef samples came from Ireland, whilst the second most pork samples were from Germany.

Across the UK, evidence shows the levels of AmpC-/ESBL-phenotype E. coli in beef and pork have remained at a low stable level in 2015, 2017 and 2019. Findings compare favorably to results published by the European Food Safety Authority from other countries that did EU monitoring surveys in 2015 and 2017.

Research to fill evidence gap
Paul Cook, FSA’s science lead in microbiological risk assessment, said the results were reassuring.

“We will continue our work to fill the evidence gap of the role that food plays in antimicrobial resistance. The risk of getting AMR-related infections through the consumption and handling of contaminated meat is very low, as long as you follow good hygiene and cooking practices,” he said.

FSA has a tender open for a survey of Salmonella, E. coli and AMR in frozen, part-cooked breaded or battered poultry products at retail sale in the UK. The deadline is Dec. 11, 2020.

A research project started in July this year is attempting to create a set of templates for AMR risk assessment in the chicken and lettuce supply chain. The work by Ausvet Europe will enable the FSA to produce more efficient and reproducible AMR risk assessments within foods. It is set for completion in January 2022.

Another project is sampling 165 biofilms from secondary meat processing facilities. Data will be used to estimate the contribution of biofilms in meat processing plants to the AMR burden. This work is being done by Fera Science until June 2022.

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