Evira to start ESBL studies


<p>Finnish Food Safety Authority Evira will start in 2015 a survey on the occurrence of antibiotic-resistant ESBL producing bacteria in beef and pork marketed at retail. The survey is part of an extensive monitoring programme implemented in all EU countries. Evira will analyse pork samples also for the antibiotic-resistant MRSA bacteria.</p>

A total of 300 samples of fresh beef and pork will be analysed in Finland during 2015 for ESBL producing bacteria. Samples will be taken from both domestic and imported meat.

ESBL producing bacteria can be transmitted between humans and animals, and they also spread via foods.

”However, the risk of contracting the bacteria from meat is small as long as the raw materials are handled appropriately, the meat is heated properly and good hand and work hygiene is observed”, explains Dr. Anna-Liisa Myllyniemi, who is the Head of Evira's Food and Feed Microbiology Research Unit.

The data accumulated during the surveys will be utilised for risk assessment and risk management purposes.

Antibiotics ineffective against ESBL

Bacteria that produce ESBL or corresponding enzymes are resistant to the antibiotics commonly used for humans. This resistance develops particularly as a result of the use of certain antibiotics.

ESBL can be produced by non-pathogenic E. coli bacteria, which are commonly found in the environment, animals and humans. They can transmit the resistance to antibiotics to bacteria that are pathogenic to humans. ESBL producing bacteria can cause e.g. urinary tract infections in humans.

Antimicrobial drugs not used in Finnish broiler production

No systematic surveys have been conducted previously in Finland on the occurrence of ESBL producing bacteria in foods.  

”ESBL producing bacteria are found in some chick batches imported to Finland. However, antimicrobial medicines are not used in broiler production in Finland, which for its part reduces the survival of these bacteria in the Finnish production chain. Normal good kitchen hygiene can help people in avoiding ESBL producing bacteria transmitted by broilers. Good hygiene is necessary to prevent also other microbiological risks associated with broiler meat, such as Salmonella and Cambylobacter”, Dr. Myllyniemi stresses.

Other production animals can also carry and transmit ESBL producing bacteria. People and animals carry ESBL producing bacteria commonly in e.g. Southeast Asia and India, where the use of medicines is extensive and hygiene conditions are deficient. Vegetables eaten raw can also present a risk in these areas. ESBL producing bacteria are commonly found in humans also in several European countries, such as Italy and Greece.

Occurrence of MRSA in various studies

The occurrence of MRSA bacteria in Finland has been studied in various projects. In 2008, an EU-wide study surveyd the occurrence of the bacteria in piglet production. In that study, the bacterium was found in the environmental sample of one Finnish farm, but it could not be isolated from the pigs on the farm.

Animals sent to Evira for examination in 2009–2010 were analysed for MRSA and samples were also taken in Finnish slaughterhouses. The results showed that MRSA bacteria occur also in Finnish pig production. However, the source of the infection could not be established on the basis of the studies. In 2011–2013, the occurrence of MRSA bacteria was studied in special health class pig breeding farms, but the bacterium was not found in any of the farms.

”MRSA bacteria can spread from one animal to another and from one farm to another. The spreading can be prevented, however, by means of strict disease protection actions and by avoiding unnecessary transfers of animals between farms. Animal disease prevention has come a long way in Finland and medication of animals is very moderate”, Dr. Myllyniemi concludes.

Foods no significant source of MRSA infections

In Finland, cooperation is close between experts in veterinary science and human health care as well as research. Evira and the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) are winding up a joint research project on MRSA being carried by humans. MRSA may be transmitted to people from animals carrying it or from the living environment of the animals. MRSA was originally known as the hospital bacteria with major risks for humans related to surgical operations and treatment of wounds.

”According to European Food Safety Authority EFSA, European Medicines Agency EMA and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control ECDC, it has not been proven that people could contract MRSA via foods; instead, long-term contact with animals that carry the bacteria or with the living environment of such animals is needed to contract the bacteria. MRSA bacteria are not included in EU's monitoring programme either”, concludes Dr. Leena Räsänen, Director of Food Safety at Evira.

Read more:
Frequently asked questions about ESBL
Frequently asked questions about MRSA

For more information, please contact:
Head of Research Unit, DVM, Anna-Liisa Myllyniemi, tel. +358 400 287 398
Director of Food Safety, DVM, Leena Räsänen, tel. +358 50 388 6518


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