Go to the Fridge and Fix Yourself a Superbug Sandwich

Canadian pork imports may be laced with antibiotic-resistant Staph.

By Boonsri Dickinson|Friday, March 28, 2008

Never mind E. coli in your spinach or botulism in your canned beans. There could be an antibiotic-resistant superbug in your fridge. Until recently, scientists believed that the dangerous bacterium Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) thrived primarily in hospitals. But MRSA was recently found for the first time in live pigs in North America, confirming suspicions that it has entered the food chain.

In Canada—a country that provides 80 percent of the United States’ pork imports—a strain of MRSA was found in a sample of pigs and their farmers. One-fourth of 285 pigs studied were infected, according to a report in Veterinary Micro­biology, with a 20 percent rate of transmission to the pig farmers.

Since proper cooking will kill MRSA just as it does E. coli, risks of food poisoning by Staphylococcus aureus are low for those who eat well-done pork. However, the USDA has found that foodborne outbreaks have occurred due to contamination by food handlers who spread bacteria from pork products to other people. Proper handling and more sanitary living conditions for pigs can minimize such risks, the USDA says.

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