EFSA’s panel on biological hazards (BIOHAZ) claims that more needs to be done to ensure that the food we eat does not become a ‘carrier’ for antimicrobial-resistant agents which could leave the body open to health risks.
The panel sought submissions from the scientific community, food processors and food sector associations following publication of its draft opinion on foodborne antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in April and it said the subsequent amendments enhance clarity and scientific value.
Alun Jones, senior spokesman for EFSA, told FoodProductionDaily.com that there is a need to keep a close eye on this issue to ensure all potential entry points into the food chain for such resistant bacteria are controlled.
"This is a job not only for EFSA but for all stakeholders - including the European Commission and national food safety authorities who are the risk managers in this case," said Jones.
The regulator’s opinion serves as a warning to processors about the problems of resistant pathogens being passed along the food chain to consumers.
“In view of experimental findings, the possibility that new food processing and preservation treatments may induce AMR in commensal and other bacteria, as a result of transformation, merits attention,” according to EFSA panel.
The Biohaz panel said that controls operated at the pre-harvest phase and those aimed at limiting antimicrobial usage are potentially the most effective and as such are capable of playing a major role in reducing the occurrence of AMR bacteria in food.
Poor hygiene, the report suggests, is another probable means of transfer. It said that the application of good HACCP principles can help to prevent food products being contaminated accidentally by resistant bacteria.
EFSA's report highlights the cases of Salmonella and Campylobacter in particular, since these are mostly spread through food.
However, the report also warns that other bacteria such as MRSA, which have not traditionally been viewed as a food-based risk, may also be an "emerging problem".
Concern about increasing levels of antimicrobial resistance has been growing for several years.
A study from the UK Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) published last year found that up to 29 per cent of the Campylobacter pathogen are now resistant to a commonly used antimicrobial.
The survey found that cephalosporin resistance in E. coli from bacteraemia is increasing. Over half of the E. coli bacteraemia isolates were resistant to ampicillin or amoxicillin, and up to 9 to 19 per cent were resistant to ciprofloxacin.
Salmonella also had low resistance to common antimicrobials, according to the DEFRA study.
However, all human and animal isolates of L. monocytogenes were found to be susceptible to penicillin or ampicillin. Antimicrobial resistance continues to be extremely rare in L. monocytogenes, the survey found.