Food safety watchdog reassures on MRSA meat risk

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Hygiene

Health officials have reassured consumers about the 'very low risk' associated with the discovery of the bacteria MRSA on a East Anglian poultry farm
Health officials have reassured consumers about the 'very low risk' associated with the discovery of the bacteria MRSA on a East Anglian poultry farm
The food safety watchdog the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has reassured consumers about the “very low risk”, after the first case of the bacteria MRSA was discovered in turkey and chickens on an East Anglian farm.

Steve Wearne, FSA director of policy, said good hygiene practices were essential to protect against the livestock-associated bacteria meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus​ (LA-MRSA). “Any risk of contracting MRSA through meat from animals with these bacteria is very low when usual good hygiene and thorough cooking practices are observed,” ​said Wearne.

“All poultry should be handled hygienically and cooked thoroughly to destroy any bacteria that may be present.”         

‘Destroy any bacteria’

About two-thirds of the turkeys on the unnamed farm were said to be infected.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) confirmed: “The risk to the public from eating meat that is thoroughly cooked is very low. The risk of catching MRSA from an animal is also very low.”

MRSA was identified on one farm by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA). But DEFRA stressed LA-MRSA was not the same as those that cause the healthcare associated infections that affect people.

Professor Angela Kearns, head of the staphylococcus reference service at Public Health England, said: “There are many different strains of MRSA that cause illness in people but this is not one of the strains that we are overly concerned about, given the very low number of clinical infections that have been seen in people.”

The strain of bacteria was “relatively widespread”​ in livestock in Europe, including countries from which meat is regularly sourced by the UK. But there were no known cases of people contracting MRSA from eating meat.

Rarely causes disease in people

LA-MRSA rarely causes disease in people, according to DEFRA and in most cases the bacteria clear within 24 hours. “It can potentially pass from animals to humans through direct contact or through dust in animal housing and is therefore primarily an occupational risk for those in contact with affected livestock,” ​it added.

Professor Peter Borriello, chief executive of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, said LA-MRSA had been identified in livestock in a number of countries and was not considered to represent a significant risk to animal health and welfare. “We conduct an extensive programme to monitor antibiotic resistance in bacteria from animals, through samples submitted to AHVLA regional laboratories,” ​said Borriello.

“We carefully consider all cases of resistance identified to establish if these present any risk to human or animal health.”

The owner of the East Anglian poultry unit has been ordered to clean and disinfect the poultry housing. The AHVLA will check the unit after cleaning to assess whether LA-MRSA is still present and whether the housing can be restocked.  

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