(Health Secrets) Are you being careful to avoid Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) in the food you eat and feed to others? As far back as 2008, a USDA certified lab found MRSA in 3 packages of ground pork bought at grocery stores in California, Oregon and Idaho. This investigation was undertaken after one local young man died of MRSA pneumonia and another lost a leg to MRSA.
MRSA is a multi-drug resistant bacterium that has already killed more people in the US than AIDS. MRSA was once a problem only in institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes, but it is now increasingly diagnosed as community acquired, meaning the patient was infected out in the community, not in an institution.
MRSA is a superbug. Infections are extremely difficult to eradicate and MRSA pneumonia and sepsis have close to a 50% fatality rate.
“It all starts with just one bacterium which you cannot see with your naked eyes,” said Dr. Mansour Samadpour, an expert bacterial microbiologist with IEH Laboratories.
The USDA refuses to conduct testing although pigs are known to carry MRSA and a particularly virulent strain was discovered in pigs during a study conducted by the University of Iowa.
“MRSA is a very different kind of bacteria,” said Dr. Rebecca Goldburg, a biologist with a group known as Keep Antibiotics Working. “As far as I`m concerned, the USDA and FDA are kind of asleep at the wheel on this one.”
Canada and several European countries already test for MRSA in pork in grocery stores. The FDA says they have started a small pilot study of raw meat in Washington, D.C., but they don`t have any results yet and don`t know when the study will be finished. MRSA is something that can be screened for to keep the public protected. Is this not the purpose of the USDA, CDC and the FDA?
The National Pork Board recently began testing pork in retail markets and found about a three percent positive rate for MRSA.
A recent study by the University of Iowa’s School of Public Health found dangerous levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in pork for sale on grocery store shelves. The incidence of MRSA in the 36 stores covered in three states was higher than that found by the National Pork Board. Of the 395 samples tested, seven percent contained MRSA. Interestingly the level of MRSA was about the same whether the meat was raised with or without antibiotics.
In an article for the publication Grist, noted author and blogger Maryn Mckenna sums up the typical media response to such data: “There’s just as much resistant bacteria on drug free meat as there is on conventional meat, so why spend the money — or raise the alarm over antibiotic use?”
But she disputes the media take: “My takeaway is that, in its underlying data, the study proves what campaigners against ag antibiotic use keep saying: that once you use antibiotics indiscriminately and drive the emergence of resistant organisms, you have no way of predicting where that resistance DNA will end up.”
Although most people believe that cooking meat until it is well done eliminates any chance of infection, this is untrue for MRSA. This superbug can cause skin infections, unlike E-coli or salmonella. A person can become colonized or infected simply by touching an object contaminated with MRSA.
Touching your nose or having an abrasion on your hands while preparing raw pork could potentially lead to colonization or outright infection. Colonization means the bacterium is present, but not causing any problems. Colonization of the nose and skin greatly increases your risk of an actual MRSA infection. MRSA infections range from boils that are difficult to heal to life threatening pneumonia, sepsis (bacteria in the blood) and joint infections.
Canada has also reported contamination of ground pork and pork chops across the country. Just under 10% of ground pork and pork chops tested positive for MRSA, while there was no contamination found in pork roasts.
Canada began researching contamination of pork with MRSA after discovering MRSA in pigs in Ontario. Dr. Scott Weese, a veterinarian based at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, is investigating the cause of the dramatic increase in community acquired MRSA in Canada. He stated: “My main concern is: if there`s MRSA on the surface of a pork chop and someone`s handling it and then they touch their nose, could they transmit it from the pork chop to their nose?” Although the investigators found nearly 10% of pork contaminated, he says that it is too soon to draw conclusions as to its role in the increase in community MRSA infections.
The Netherlands found MRSA in raw chicken in 2005 so the problem may not be limited to pork.
Should you choose to continue to purchase pork, especially ground pork, make sure you use all safe food-handling practices such as defrosting in the refrigerator, not leaving raw meat at room temperature and washing your hands well with hot soapy water after handling. Besides the usual precautions, do not handle raw pork at all if you have cuts or abrasions on your hands. Always wear gloves when handling raw pork as tiny abrasions, especially around fingernails, often go unnoticed. Buy range-fed meat from local farmers and avoid grocery store meat whenever possible.
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