KENYA – A new study led by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) has found high levels of contamination in raw pork and poultry meat sold in leading supermarkets in Kenya.

Out of the 393 samples collected from the supermarkets, 98.4% of pork and 96.6% of poultry were contaminated with high levels of bacteria.

The researchers hypothesize that the contamination could have its origins at the farm level during the slaughtering process or packaging as contamination at the supermarket level was very unlikely.

“Though there was a potential of cross-contamination in the fridge/freezer shelves through liquid drips from one food item to another, the likelihood of this happening was reduced because the samples were found to be shrink-wrapped in polymer plastic film bags at the time of sampling.

“Therefore, the reported bacterial contamination of pork and chicken meat might have its origins at the farm level during the slaughtering process or packaging,” the study observed.

Conducted by KEMRI scientists alongside others from the World Animal Protection and the Centre for Microbiology Research, the study noted that out of the 611 bacterial isolates recovered, 38.5% were multi-drug resistant.

This resistance was noted for critically essential antimicrobials (according to the WHO) such as rifampicin (96%), ampicillin (35%), cefotaxime (9%), cefepime (6%), and ciprofloxacin (6%).

Moreover, the study observed high resistance to key antimicrobials for veterinary medicine such as tetracycline (39%), sulfamethoxazole (33%), and trimethoprim (30%).

The widespread use of antibiotics for preservation and growth promotion in chickens and pigs is hypothesized to be a major contributor to the emergence of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria with zoonotic potential.

Dr. Victor Yamo, one of the scientists, said, “The study’s findings highlight the urgent need for enhanced surveillance and control measures for bacterial pathogens in the Kenyan food chain, particularly in light of the rising rates of antimicrobial resistance.”

The data should also raise awareness among consumers about the importance of hygienic practices in handling, storing, and cooking raw meat to prevent foodborne illnesses.”

The authors of the study also urged supermarkets to adhere to hygienic principles when handling and processing pork and chicken meat products to reduce the potential risk of microbial contamination.

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance is fast becoming a worrying threat, joining the World Health Organization’s (WHO) top ten list of worldwide public health hazards.

A 2019 study found that 4.95 million people died from AMR-related illnesses. Of these deaths, AMR was directly responsible for 1.27 million, more than even HIV/malaria-related deaths.

Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) created a platform dubbed the “International Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring (InFARM) platform” to gather data on AMR in food and agriculture that may help to manage the risks.

The InFARM data platform offers a standardized method for gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and sharing AMR data pertaining to livestock and food.

It will be a part of the worldwide antimicrobial resistance and use platforms, which are supervised by four collaborative international organizations known as the Quadripartite.

Data from InFARM, as well as from the World Health Organization (WHO) platform GLASS, and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) platform ANIMUSE will be shared regularly to a Quadripartite integrated surveillance global platform.

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