A study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases links the Klebsiella pneumoniae pathogen to retail meat products for the first time. This bacteria can cause pneumonia when inhaled, and can cause urinary tract infections and infections in the lower biliary trace and in wounds.
In the 2012 study, turkey, chicken, and pork meats were sampled from nine major grocery stores in Flagstaff, Arizona where clinical samples from sick people were screened for this bacteria. Ten percent of the 1,728 positive human samples and 47% of the 508 retail meat samples yielded the bacteria. Many of the strains were resistant to antibiotics.
Whole genome sequencing found that the Klebsiella isolated from the meat products and the Klebsiella isolated from patients were nearly identical. In other words, people can be exposed to this pathogen from contaminate meat.
Study author Dr. Lance Price of George Washington University said in a statement, “this study is the first to suggest that consumers can be exposed to potentially dangerous Klebsiella from contaminated meat. The U.S. government monitors food for only a limited number of bacterial species, but this study shows that focusing on the ‘usual suspects’ may not capture the full scope of food-borne pathogens.”
Dr. James R. Johnson, co-author of the study and professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota added, “as an infectious disease doctor, I have encountered Klebsiella pneumoniae in my patients. We tend to think of this organism as being one that individuals carry naturally, or acquire from the environment. This research suggests that we also can pick up these bacteria from the food we eat.”
Price added that “now we have another drug resistant pathogen in the food supply, underscoring the public health concern regarding antibiotic use in food animal production. Meanwhile, there is one big thing that can be done to protect human health in relation to antibiotic-resistant foodborne bacteria: stop overusing antibiotics in food-animal production.”