A Guardian investigation has found that meat produced from British pigs has been shown to be infected with a livestock strain of MRSA which, the paper says, has serious concerns for human health and raises concerns that the UK is on the brink of another food scandal.
The report says that MRSA CC398 is a potentially deadly bacterium which can be resistant to antibiotics. It causes unpleasant infections and can be particularly harmful to people with compromised immune systems, such as those suffering from illnesses or the elderly. It has been linked to six deaths in Denmark and concerns are that the illness can be transmitted through undercooked pork.
Pork carrying the MRSA strain has reportedly been found on Asda and Sainsbury’s shelves, leading to concerns that there might be an outbreak here in the UK.
Fiona Sinclair, director of food safety consultancy STS, says this is not the typical food-borne illness as it is not simply caught by consumption of meat. As well as the potential risk MRSA poses to people eating infected pork, there are also concerns for those preparing it.
Fiona says there should be strict regulation of the entire food chain all the way through from the farmer to the chef: “We would emphasise the importance of carefully sourcing quality pork from reputable suppliers and ensuring traceability throughout the supply chain. This strain of MRSA can pass from meat to humans if someone touches infected meat and then touches inside their nostrils, mouth or cuts. Avoiding transmission will be heavily dependent on high standards of personal hygiene.”
She continues: “Traditionally we emphasise personal hygiene during food preparation in order to protect the consumer from food-borne illness but, in this case, it is also to protect the people preparing the food. This strain of MRSA is potentially an occupational health hazard for chefs and other food professionals. We would advise thorough hand washing after touching raw pork, preferably with antibacterial soap, as well as thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting work surfaces and utensils after they have been used for raw pork.”
When it comes to the cooking process, Fiona says it’s important to ensure that pork is thoroughly cooked in order to eliminate any harmful bacteria. She says: “This strain of MRSA is destroyed by cooking so as a precautionary measure, consumers and food businesses should ensure that all pork and pork products are thoroughly cooked. The target core temperature is 70°C for 2 minutes or an equivalent time/temperature combination such as 75°C for 30 seconds. This is sufficient to destroy all harmful bacteria that might be present in meat – including pathogenic bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter in addition to MRSA. A disinfected probe thermometer should be used to check core temperature of pork before serving.”
As with all food-borne illnesses, Fiona says following sensible food safety precautions and good hygiene should be enough to prevent MRSA from spreading.
For more information on food hygiene standards and control of food-borne illness, contact STS on 01252 728 300