This week marked the release of the latest report from the FDA on the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) which is a joint effort between the FDA, USDA and CDC to help track and better understand antimicrobial resistance in certain pathogens. The newest Executive Summary, which includes data through 2011 provides a progress update on this critical task, tracking foodborne bacteria collected from humans, retail meats and food animals. Overall the report shows some significant progress in key areas as well as a few areas with room for improvement.

The most important takeaway from the latest report is that antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogens isolated from humans that can also reside in farm animals is very low and decreasing in many instances.

Highlights include:

  • No resistance was detected in 85 percent of non-typhoidal Salmonella isolates from humans with multiple drug resistance decreasing by nearly 50% since 1997.
  • Salmonella resistance to ciprofloxacin, one of the most common antibiotics to treat Salmonella infections in humans, is very low: less than 0.5% in humans, less than 3% in retail meat, and less than 1% in animals at slaughter.
  • Erythromycin resistance in Campylobacter jejuni (C. jejuni) has remained at less than 4% in isolates obtained from humans, retail chicken and slaughtered chicken since testing began. Erythromycin is the antibiotic of choice for treating Campylobacter infections, more than 90% of which are caused by C. jejuni.

Challenges also remain when it comes to resistance trends in certain bacteria as some combinations of drugs and pathogens showed increases in resistance such as in cephalosporins, an important drug class for the treatment of Salmonella infections, resistance rose among isolates from retail ground turkey and among certain Salmonella serotypes in cattle.

The CDC summed up its concerns in last year’s report highlighting the most common sources of antibiotic resistant infections. Just two of the 18 bacteria listed as threats are tied to agricultural uses, Campylobacter and Salmonella, so it is a positive sign that resistance to key antibiotics is so low in this report. Still, CDC and NARMS reports speak to the complexity of the issue of antibiotic resistance. There is no magic bullet to improve resistance rates, but by employing judicious use and stewardship strategies over time both in human and animal setting, we can hopefully reduce resistance and improve public health outcomes. In the meantime, meat eating consumers should remember that antibiotic resistant or not, Salmonella, Campylobacter and other pathogenic bacteria are killed with proper cooking.

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