Updated figures for antimicrobial resistant (AMR) E. coli, Campylobacter, and Salmonella on chicken and turkey meat in the United Kingdom have been released.

A survey covered 306 fresh raw chicken and 302 turkey meat samples collected at retail in the UK from January to December 2022. A report was produced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) under contract from the Food Standards Agency (FSA). Findings continued monitoring E. coli and Campylobacter and produced new baseline prevalence data on AMR Salmonella in chicken and turkey.

The prevalence of Extended Spectrum Beta Lactamases (ESBLs) and AmpC E. coli in chicken and turkey meat was 12 percent. The prevalence of ESBLs in E. coli from chickens was similar to the 2020 survey of 13 percent. For Turkey, there was no change from the 2020-21 survey.

Mcr-1 colistin-resistant E. coli was detected in 1 percent of both meat samples. Seven of the eight positives came from imported meat. It was the second time that MCR-1 had been found in E. coli in chicken and turkey meat on retail sale in the UK.

Campylobacter and Salmonella results
The prevalence of Campylobacter in chickens was 48 percent, but only 5 percent in turkeys. High levels above 1,000 colony-forming units per gram (CFU/g) were detected in 17 chicken samples. The highest was 25,700 CFU/g in whole chicken. Campylobacter jejuni was detected in 143 chicken samples, Campylobacter coli in 17 samples, and both species were found 15 times.

Ciprofloxacin and tetracycline resistance was common in chicken and turkey Campylobacter isolates. Resistance to ciprofloxacin is a concern as it is one treatment option for campylobacteriosis in people. Resistance to chloramphenicol, erythromycin, and gentamicin was not detected.

Salmonella was found in six chicken and two turkey samples. No isolates were ESBL- or carbapenemase-producers. Salmonella Paratyphi B variant Java was isolated from a chicken breast with meat origin from the Netherlands. Other isolates were Agona four times and Infantis, London, and Mbandaka all once. Except for one Agona isolates in a turkey breast from the UK, all were from chicken of UK origin.

Multidrug resistance (MDR) was observed in a Salmonella Agona isolate from a turkey breast, which showed resistance to ampicillin, gentamicin, and tetracycline. Another Salmonella Agona isolates from a chicken leg was resistant to ampicillin. As ampicillin, sulfamethoxazole, and tetracycline have been commonly used in veterinary medicine, the findings are not unexpected.

E. coli, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and AMR were detected in chicken and turkey samples. However, they were raw meat intended to be cooked. Proper cooking will destroy microorganisms and reduce the risk for consumers.

Food handler knowledge
Meanwhile, another survey found four in five UK food handlers had heard of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Half of respondents said they knew at least a little about it, and over a quarter stated they knew much about AMR.

Participants were 500 workers who handled food or touched surfaces likely to be in contact with food. They completed a survey between June and July 2022. Workers were shown a list of eight statements about AMR and one about antibiotics, of which some were true and others false. 

Findings suggested that food handlers’ levels of awareness and understanding of AMR were lower than those of consumers.

“It appears that some food handlers aren’t aware of the key food handling/preparation activities that can limit the spread of AMR,” said a survey report.

Food handlers more commonly identified meat, poultry, and seafood as sources of AMR over salad and fruits. About three in 10 incorrectly believed that washing chicken before cooking can protect against the spread of AMR.

Managerial food service staff and kitchen staff had similar levels of awareness across most areas.

Women and older respondents had higher levels of knowledge in terms of correctly categorizing statements and when identifying correct sources of and ways to protect against the spread of AMR.

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