MRSA found in supermarket pork

Pork sold by several leading British supermarkets has been found to be contaminated with a strain of the superbug MRSA, an investigation reported in The Guardian has revealed.

A bacterium known as livestock-associated MRSA CC398, which originates in animals, has been discovered in pork products sold in Asda, the Co-op, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. Of the 100 packets of pork chops, bacon and gammon tested by the Guardian, nine, eight Danish and one Irish, were found to have been infected with CC398.

CC398 in meat can be transmitted by touching infected meat products or coming into contact with infected outer packaging, although it can be killed through cooking.

Many people carry the bacteria without any signs of illness, but some have developed skin complaints and the bug can cause life-threatening infections, including pneumonia and blood poisoning.

Experts say that the superbug has emerged as a result of antibiotic use in intensive farming and there is evidence that the UK could be at risk of a wider health crisis unless the issue is tackled by the authorities.

The superbug CC398 is a variant of the more commonly known MRSA found in hospitals and is endemic in pig farms in some European countries, particularly Denmark, Europe’s biggest pork producer and a key exporter to the UK.   

CC398 is linked to intensive farms, where farmers become reliant on antibiotics to keep animals healthy and alive. This has led to the emergence of CC398, which is resistant to antibiotics.

Two thirds of Denmark’s pig farms are currently infected with CC398, where it is spreading rapidly: 648 people were infected with CC398 in 2013; in 2014, 1,271 people contracted the bug. Of those infected two people died as a result of the infection, and many suffered serious blood poisoning.

Six products purchased from Sainsbury’s stores were found to contain the superbug – five Danish gammon steak and one gammon joint – while an Asda Danish unsmoked gammon steak, a Co-operative Danish unsmoked back bacon pack and a Tesco Irish unsmoked gammon steak were also contaminated with CC398.

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