For the first time, antibiotic-resistant bacteria has turned up in human food—raw squid, to be precise, stocked by a Chinese grocery in Canada and imported from South Korea. Up to now, drug-resistant bacteria have been found in health care facilities and spread by patients. Speaking to the Washington Post, veterinary microbiologist Joseph Rubin explains why this new find is even more disturbing:
“This finding means a much broader segment of the population is potentially at risk for exposure. It’s something you may be bringing into your home rather than something you would acquire while traveling or following hospitalization,” he said.Cooking the squid at the proper temperature would kill the bacteria. But the bacteria could still spread into humans through cross-contamination if kitchen surfaces and hands aren’t properly cleaned.
The bacterium is resistant to a class of last-defense antibiotics known as carbapenems. Scientists worry that this bug could pass on the “gene or enzyme” that makes it resistant to other bacteria:
The organism found in the squid, Pseudomonas fluorescens, probably would not make a healthy person sick, Rubin said. But for those with immune systems compromised by chemotherapy or illness, it could make common bacteria like E. coli resistant to the last-resort antibiotics. E. coli is the most common cause of urinary tract infections in healthy people.
We wrote about the dangers posed by bacteria resistant to carbapenems a few months ago, when the World Health Organization declared drug-resistant bacteria to be a global health crisis. And while last week brought us reports of a promising new treatment for the “superbug” MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), as we noted then, the cure is only a tiny bright spot in an otherwise worrying picture.If drug-resistant bacteria get into our food supply, we’re in deep trouble. One harvest of infected seafood could be split up and shipped to hundreds of locations worldwide before anyone discovered the danger. And it’s virtually impossible to monitor the millions of specialty food items, many of them imported across great distances, to ensure that all of them are safe.