U.S – A recent study conducted in the United States has uncovered a significant correlation between the shipping distance of retail meats and the prevalence of multidrug-resistant (MDR) bacterial contamination.

The research, based on an analysis of data from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), highlights potential risks associated with the processor’s region of origin and the distance traveled to the final destination.

The study, covering the years 2012–2014, delved into geospatial risk factors using NARMS data on antimicrobial susceptibility in meat samples, including chicken breasts, ground turkey, ground beef, and pork chops.

The researchers also accessed information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA’s FSIS) to categorize processors into regions — Midwest, Northeast, South, and West.

Findings from the analysis, comprising 11,243 meat samples, revealed a notable imbalance in meat processing and distribution across the U.S, reports Food Safety Magazine.

The average distance covered by meat from processor to retailer was approximately 619.25 miles (997 kilometers). The study identified a potential association between shipping distance and the prevalence of MDR bacteria, suggesting a role for transit distance in bacterial contamination.

Southern processors showed the highest MDR bacterial contamination rates, particularly in chicken breast (11.1 percent), ground turkey (45.3 percent), and ground pork (6 percent).

Specific states exhibited elevated MDR bacterial contamination levels: New York (MDR Salmonella, 48 percent), Pennsylvania (MDR Campylobacter, 3.4 percent), Oregon (MDR Escherichia coli, 38.9 percent), and Maryland (MDR Enterococcus, 3 percent).

Despite limited evidence explaining regional differences, factors such as husbandry practices and state-specific laws were identified as potential contributors to bacterial contamination.

Variances in microbial contamination during slaughtering processes necessitate further investigation, especially in states with distinct organic farming practices and humane slaughter laws.

A hypothesis suggesting that longer shipping distances result in greater MDR pathogen contamination raises concerns about the continuous cold chain and humidity control during transportation.

Refrigerated trucks covering extended distances may be prone to gaps in these critical conditions, potentially impacting bacterial growth. The study proposes that maintaining a consistent cold chain, especially during longer transit times, is crucial to mitigate bacterial contamination risks.

The study emphasizes the need for transparent and available data to facilitate traceback efforts and intervention strategies. Recognizing individual processor entities and their locations could enable targeted interventions, reducing exposures from MDR bacteria-contaminated retail meat.

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