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Research Develops into Foodborne Pathogens

03 January 2013

ANALYSIS - Three new research projects have raised concerns and new hopes in the food industry's battle against foodborne pathogens, writes Chris Harris.

Concerns have been raised over the potential for decontaminants used the slaughterhouse to increase antibiotic resistance and new research has shown how MRSA is becoming more prevalent on some livestock farms.

However in the US, new research is looking at faster ways to detect dangerous pathogens as a means of controlling and containing them.

Research in Spain has found that decontamination treatments can increase the prevalence of resistance to antibiotics of E.coli which is naturally present on poultry.

Chemical decontaminants could favour the emergence, selection and/or proliferation of antibiotic-resistant strains in microbial populations on poultry meat, according to Rosa Capita, who headed up the research team in the Department of Food Hygiene and Food Technology at the University of León.

The study set out to discover ability of various decontaminants to increase the prevalence of resistance to antibiotics in Escherichia coli populations on poultry.

In the UK, the government has been called on to investigate the potential for British farm animals to be carriers of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

Concern is growing that the pathogen is becoming more common because of the overuse of antibiotics in farming.

The call for action comes from the Spoil Association following new research from the University of Cambridge revealing the first cases of MRSA ST398 have been found in UK livestock.

First found in pigs in the Netherlands in 2003, MRSA ST398 has since reached epidemic proportions in some European and North American pig populations and has spread to poultry and cattle.

It has not been found in British food animals before, however, very little testing has been carried out compared to other EU countries.

A team of researchers in the US is researching an easy test to discover dangerous foodborne pathogens.

Pina Fratamico is on the quest to find the easiest and fastest way to test for harmful Escherichia coli in ground beef.

The researcher is exploring the use of a next-generation real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) systems to discover specific gene targets that indicate the presence of dangerous foodborne pathogens. The results show that assays performed using this PCR system are rapid, sensitive, and reliable.

"Testing using these types of systems is faster, easier, and more reproducible than previous methods, and this should increase food safety in the long run. I feel that we could confidently move to these new systems for screening ground beef and other foods for E. coli contamination," said Fratamico, researcher at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

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