Bacterial news flashes

From NPR’s food blog, The Salt

April 18, 2013

From National Public Radio’s food blog, The Salt, come these food-safety tidbits: Sticking food in the freezer may not kill as many germs as you’d hoped. Scientists have mapped the many microbes that hang out on our produce. And yes, hard data is now in that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is directly connected to the rise in antibiotic resistance in humans.

In other words, frozen hamburger meat can still harbor live E. coli bacteria. (Yes, unfortunately: an outbreak of E. coli has been traced to frozen food.) “Freezing does slow down the microbes that cause food to spoil, but it’s pretty much useless for killing dangerous bugs,” wrote Nancy Shute. (In fact, freezing preserves germs so well that scientists have tried to track down the deadly 1918 influenza virus by digging up the frozen bodies of people who died from it.) Want to be sure the germs are dead? Use heat, not cold.

Meanwhile, scientists have been pondering the fact that — just like humans — plants have their own microbiomes, or colonies of bacteria. “The good news: Most of the bacterial horde is benign,” noted Shute.

As for the antibiotics, the Environmental Working Group recently issued an analysis of a report released in February by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System. Here’s how Eliza Barclay summed it up for The Salt:

The tests detected several nasty bugs that cause disease in humans — salmonella, Campylobacter and E. coli. As if the presence of these microbes weren’t enough, the researchers found that a lot of the bacteria were strains resistant to antibiotics, making them even more dangerous for humans. The implications were significant — that the bacteria had become resistant to antibiotics back at the farm because farmers were overusing them.
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