UK – A study conducted by the Quadram Institute and the University of East Anglia, in collaboration with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has uncovered concerning findings regarding the underestimated threat posed by Yersinia enterocolitica to food safety and human health. 

The research, which sheds light on the widespread presence of the pathogen on various food items and its potential link to human illness, underscores the urgent need for enhanced surveillance and understanding of this pathogen.

Despite its relatively low reported incidence, Yersinia enterocolitica has emerged as a significant concern in food safety. The study revealed diverse populations of the pathogen in foods, including chicken, pork, salmon, and leafy greens, challenging previous assumptions about its prevalence and transmission routes.

Notably, Y. enterocolitica was found to contaminate a substantial proportion of chicken and salmon samples, with even leafy greens showing signs of contamination, raising concerns due to their minimal processing before consumption.

Connecting the dots

Through whole genome sequencing (WGS), researchers identified striking similarities between Yersinia isolates from food samples and those obtained from human cases of gastroenteritis.

Despite the predominance of biotype 1A—previously considered less pathogenic—in retail samples, genomic analysis revealed close genetic relatedness between food-derived and human-derived strains.

This correlation suggests a potential but previously overlooked link between foodborne Y. enterocolitica and human illness, emphasizing the need for comprehensive surveillance to understand its impact on public health fully.

The study’s findings challenge existing perceptions of Y. enterocolitica as a minor foodborne pathogen, highlighting its potential for causing gastroenteritis in humans.

With evidence of its prevalence in supermarket foods surpassing more widely recognized bacteria like Campylobacter and Salmonella, there is a pressing need for improved surveillance and monitoring efforts.

Enhanced surveillance of both human cases and food sources is crucial to elucidate biotype 1A’s role in infection and implement effective measures to safeguard the food supply.

For all the latest food safety news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.