My interest in food safety was first sparked by an allergist saying my little daughter’s seemingly incurable hives might be due to penicillin in the milk.
“What’s penicillin doing in the milk?” I asked. As a reporter, I found that not only was penicillin the milk, it was in poultry, beef and in many of our edibles. My daughter now has a grown daughter of her own and still more than half the antibiotics produced are fed to animals today.
Currently 16 different antimicrobial drugs are approved for use in United State’s poultry production with gentamicin reported to be the most widely used. Our country is not alone in lacing meat and milk with antibiotics.
The Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) in Britain, for example, just released a study pointing to the growing resistance of specific food pathogens to antimicrobials, drugs used to combat the germs in animals at the production stage. Up to 29 per cent of the Campylobacter, now the leading cause of bacterial food poisoning, are now resistant to commonly used antimicrobials, according to a UK survey.
The report warns processors about the problems of resistant germs being passed along the food chain to consumers. The survey found that cephalosporin, a popular human antibiotic medication, is increasingly ineffective against E. coli. In humans E. coli is one of the two most important bacterial pathogens causing sickness. Over half of the E. coli bacteria isolates tested were resistant to ampicillin or amoxicillin, and up to 19 per cent were resistant to ciprofloxacin. The majority of E. coli O157, one of the most dangerous forms of the pathogen, were found in humans to show resistance to tetracyclines, sulphonamides and streptomycin in some regions.
Health providers and consumers have been widely blamed for overusing antibiotics in human illnesses and thus causing the growing ineffectiveness of antibiotic medicines but poultry workers may be the unknowing culprits. Researchers in the United States have just reported the poultry employees may be spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria to those who do not work in the sector.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that these workers were 32 times more likely to be carriers of E. coli bacteria resistant to the commonly used antibiotic gentamicin when compared to other employees.
The results, published in a recent edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, suggest that food processing could play a greater role than previously thought in the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
"One of the major implications of this study is to underscore the importance of the non-hospital environment in the origin of drug resistant infections," said Ellen K. Silbergeld, PhD, senior author of the study. It was noted many of these workers wear uniforms and these could be handled by other household members during laundry who would then be exposed to the bacteria.
The study, which was conducted by the research faculty at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, concluded: The findings will lend weight to those who are critical of antibiotic use in the poultry sector. Antibiotic resistance has become a serious problem for public health services around the world.”
Ask my daughter. That’s not news to me. Is it to you? Who is going to do something about it? Stay tuned.