Rhode Island Hospital study finds local retail meat safe from antibiotic-resistant organisms

October 29, 2008

Providence, RI -Rhode Island Hospital researchers report that findings from a new study of retail meat in the Providence, RI area indicate little to no presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The study, prompted by the identification of such organisms in retail meat in Canada, Europe and Asia, is among the first in this country to look at the possible spread of infection through retail meat. The study was published in the Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment, Vol. 6 (3&4), 2008.

In countries outside the United States, including Japan, Korea and the Netherlands, some studies have found antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and others in up to 2.5 percent of samples of poultry, pork and beef, and published reports have described food-borne illness caused by MRSA. While some of these infections may reflect transmission from food handlers, the potential exists for transmission to humans directly from contaminated meats.

Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital, led by infectious diseases specialist Leonard Mermel, DO, ScM, set out to determine if retail beef, chicken and pork is contaminated with MRSA, vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) and other antibiotic-resistant bacteria. To do so, meats from 10 supermarkets and butcher shops in the greater Providence area were obtained for a total of 36 samples (12 each of beef, chicken and pork).

Their findings indicated that only one of the 36 samples contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which was found in a sample of pork from one store. Of note, Staphylococcus aureus (methicillin-sensitive, not MRSA), was found in four of the 36 meat samples, which is consistent with previous reports. These findings do not indicate a cause for concern regarding meat purchased in the Providence area. The researchers, however, do urge the public to be sure to always cook meats to the recommended temperatures. This will reduce risk of illness if any bacteria is present.

While the findings did not represent significant presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meat, the authors note, "Retail meat products may represent an underappreciated source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While our small study did not show cause for concern, the fact is that food-borne illness due to MRSA contamination in retail meat has occurred in other countries."

Mermel and the researchers note that the limitations of the study include the small sample size and the region-specific retail sources. Despite these limitations, they note, "Further studies are necessary in order to delineate the true magnitude of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the retail meats in the United States, and then it is our responsibility to determine the risk of transmission to humans."
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Founded in 1863, Rhode Island Hospital (www.rhodeislandhospital.org) is a private, not-for-profit hospital and is the largest teaching hospital of Brown Medical School. A major trauma center for southeastern New England, the hospital is dedicated to being on the cutting edge of medicine and research. Rhode Island Hospital ranks 15th among independent hospitals who receive funding from the National Institutes of Health, with research awards of nearly $27 million annually. Many of its physicians are recognized as leaders in their respective fields of cancer, cardiology, diabetes, orthopedics and minimally invasive surgery. The hospital's pediatrics division, Hasbro Children's Hospital, has pioneered numerous procedures and is at the forefront of fetal surgery, orthopedics and pediatric neurosurgery. Rhode Island Hospital is a founding member of the Lifespan health system.

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