The Klebsiella pneumoniae pathogen has been linked to chicken, turkey and pork sold in grocery stores for the first time, in a study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The bacteria can cause urinary tract infections and infections in the lower biliary trace and in wounds, and can cause pneumonia when inhaled.
The research published today suggests that Klebsiella might need to be added to the food safety system list of risks in perishable food products, along with well-known bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella and Campylobacter, which cause millions of cases of food poisoning every year.
Lead author Lance B. Price, PhD, professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University, said:
“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 foodborne pathogens.”
Antibiotic Resistant Strains
Turkey, chicken, and pork meats were sampled, in the 2012 study, from nine major grocery stores in Flagstaff, Arizona. Ten percent of the 1,728 positive human samples and 47% of the 508 retail meat samples yielded the bacteria, and many of the strains were antibiotics resistant to.
Agricultural operations often give food animals antibiotics to get them to grow faster to prevent diseases. The practice can create conditions ideal for the emergence of resistant strains of Klebsiella, Price says.
To compare the Klebsiella isolated from retail meat products with the Klebsiella isolated from patients, researchers used whole-genome DNA sequencing. They found that some isolate pairs were nearly identical.
Co-author James R. Johnson, MD, professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, says:
“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, who recently launched the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (ARAC) at Milken Institute SPH, added:
“Now we have another drug resistant pathogen in the food supply, underscoring the public health concern regarding antibiotic use in food animal production. This study is one of the many reasons we launched ARAC. We want to quantify the relationship between antibiotic use in food animal production and antibiotic-resistant infections in people. 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.”
Gregg S. Davis, Kara Waits, Lora Nordstrom, Brett Weaver, Maliha Aziz, Lori Gauld, Heidi Grande, Rick Bigler, Joseph Horwinski, Stephen Porter, Marc Stegger, James R. Johnson, Cindy M. Liu, and Lance B. Price
Intermingled Klebsiella pneumoniae Populations Between Retail Meats and Human Urinary Tract Infections
Clin Infect Dis. first published online July 22, 2015 doi:10.1093/cid/civ428