Harmful bacteria found in pork, chicken sold in supermarkets

A study conducted by Kemri shows pork, poultry meat sold in supermarkets is contaminated.

Photo credit: File

The pork and chicken meat you buy from supermarkets may contain bacteria that can make you sick and resistant to available antibiotics –a new study has found.

The study published in the Journal of Antibiotics was conducted by different scientists in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).

It revealed that chicken meat and pork from both local and international supermarkets in Kenya are contaminated and could lead to the dreaded antimicrobial resistance.

Scientists tout the phenomenon as a silent pandemic as people who are affected by it fall sick but available drugs cannot treat them because the bacteria in them has become unfazed. The bacteria resistant to drugs is also called superbugs.

Dr Victor Yamo, a scientist with the World Animal Protection who was part of the study, told the Nation 33 per cent of the products bought from our supermarkets have bacteria that identify superbugs.

He explains that superbugs are bacteria resistant to three or more antibiotics.

He warns that this presents a public health threat to consumers and at the same time, exacerbates the risk of getting food borne diseases.

“If you eat the chicken, or pork from the supermarkets, especially those that have antimicrobial resistance genes, it is likely to be passed down to you. Once you are exposed to the bacteria, you become a candidate for antimicrobial resistance,” he explained.

The scientists collected about 187 raw pork and 206 chicken samples between April and July 2020 from six leading supermarkets in five towns including Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Nanyuki and Eldoret in Kenya. However, the study did not name the supermarkets where the samples were collected from.

Nairobi accounted for most of the samples collected; nearly 75 per cent of the pork and 63 per cent of the poultry.

All the samples were purchased either as wrapped or sealed by the supplier or repackaged by the outlet, within their expiry date, and the product branding was covered to blind the laboratory personnel.

After identifying the samples, they were transported in coolers to Kemri within five hours, where analysis was done.

At the Center for Microbiology Research laboratories in Kemri, scientists looked out for bacteria with superbugs in line with the World Health Organization (WHO) recognised antibiotics.

Dr Yamo explains that some of the resistance emanates from farming practices.

“Farmers who have unhygienic places give their chicken or pigs antibiotics to mask the disease and that’s where the problem starts. We ask farmers to be as clean as possible and embrace ventilation where they have animals” he implores.

“When that does not happen, then the farmer is unknowingly selecting resistant antibiotic genes from the bacteria that is in the normal environment passing it to the animal,” he adds.

Dr Yamo says that the ongoing trend is worrying because more people are having infections that cannot be treated.

Already, about 1.27 million people die annually because of diseases that cannot be treated. Studies estimated that by 2050 10 million people will be dying annually.

“To put it into context, in the three years that we had Covid, we lost about six million people. Here is a situation where we have a potential of losing about 10 million people in a year. If we do not use the antibiotics we have properly, we may lose a chance to protect people from dying,” he explained.

Kenya is already experiencing increasing levels of antimicrobial use and antimicrobial resistance. In 2013, it was estimated that 395 tons of antibiotics were used for food and animal production in Kenya. Out of that number, 43 per cent are classified as critically relevant by the World Health Organisation.

Notably, key antimicrobial-resistant foodborne pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella of foodborne diseases of global public health significance.

“Antimicrobial-resistant bacteria that originate in the gastrointestinal tract of animals can contaminate meat during animal slaughter and food processing or contaminate the environment with animal faeces, and thus be transferred to humans through handling or consuming contaminated food or coming into contact with animal waste. This can lead to antimicrobial-resistant intestinal infections,” says the study.

Dr Yamo hints at another study that shows the resistance can be passed down to plants through the manure from the animals.

"It is important that we move to a one health approach. This means that we need to manage processes around the impact of environment, animals and human beings,” he says.