MRSA in Retail Pork Products

A new study finds more methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in retail pork products than previously measured.

The study published in PLoS One found that staph was isolated from nearly 65% of the pork products purchased at grocery stores in Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

The MRSA form was found on nearly 7% of the pork products. Previous studies had found MRSA on only 1% of pork samples.

The recent study was done using the entire pork product as a sample, while earlier studies had used swabs and likely missed small colonies of the bacteria.

Conventional vs Alternative Pork Products

The study further categorized the pork products into conventional and alternative, where alternative pork products were those labeled “raised without antibiotics” or “raised without antibiotic growth promotants”. According to study author Tara C. Smith, very few USDA-certified organic products were available in the markets as fresh meat, rather than frozen.

No statistically significant difference was found between the percentage of conventional pork products carrying staph of any kind and that of alternative pork products.

What Does This All Mean?

Another recent study found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria linger on farms for several years after the use of antibiotics is halted.  This study was small – ten pigs on one farm – but the continued existence of the bacteria on the farm needs further investigation on a larger scale.

It’s also possible that the contamination of the pork products occurred mostly at the meat processing plants. Yet another study found no cattle from a feedlot harboring MRSA , but beef at the stores did have the bacteria.

For the home cook, using safe food handling practices remains a necessity. However, industry practices need to improve to prevent the spread of food borne pathogens.

Source:  O’Brien AM, Hanson BM, Farina SA, Wu JY, Simmering JE, et al. (2012) MRSA in Conventional and Alternative Retail Pork Products. PLoS ONE 7(1): e30092. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030092

Photo by The Pug Father/Creative Commons

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