PORTUGAL – The frequency of Staphylococcus aureus on the hands of food service workers, as well as the pathogenicity and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) of S. aureus isolates, have all been the subject of a recent study.

Researchers in Portugal obtained 167 hand-swab samples from food service workers employed by restaurants and catering businesses over a period of 13 months.

More than 11% of hand swab samples contained S. aureus, which the researchers observed is not surprising given that the human body serves as a reservoir for bacteria.

One common way that food becomes contaminated is when food handlers with poor personal hygiene transfer S. aureus to meals.

In addition to manual contact, respiratory secretions are also a source of food contamination by handlers.

More than 60% of the S. aureus isolates possessed at least one enterotoxin gene, making them the majority of harmful strains.

S. aureus symptoms can include nausea, cramping in the stomach, diarrhea, vomiting, and mild fever. They usually start between one and six hours after eating contaminated food and continue anywhere from a few hours to a few days.

Despite being a common cause of food poisoning, S. aureus tends to be statistically underreported because of the transient nature of the symptoms, claim the researchers.

Furthermore, the researchers claim that whereas Staphylococcus species can be easily eliminated by pasteurization or cooking, S. aureus enterotoxins are resistant to treatments like heat and low pH, making the adoption of appropriate hygiene practices essential for pathogen management.

Notably, erythromycin, a macrolide antibiotic often used to treat S. aureus infections, was shown to be resistant to more than 44% of the identified S. aureus strains.

Once again, the researchers have emphasized the need for excellent hygiene in reducing the spread of AMR through foodborne S. aureus illness.

According to the “The European Union One Health 2019 Zoonoses Report”, a total of 3086 foodborne outbreaks were reported by 27 member states.

Among outbreaks with known causative agents, most were due to bacteria, followed by bacterial toxins.

Among the bacterial toxins reported by 13 member states, 1.4% were caused by Staphylococcus spp., including both strong-evidence and weak-evidence outbreaks.

The high incidence of this biological agent on the hands of food handlers, together with the fact that it is a bacterium with relevant pathogenic potential given the high frequency of strains with toxigenic and many other virulence factors, as well as worrisome antibiotic resistance, makes the control of the spread of this bacterium crucial to safeguarding public health.

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