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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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CVM Conducts Retail Meat Pilot Study

by Dr. Marcia L. Headrick
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter September/October 2003 Volume XVIII, No 5

Foodborne diseases caused by a variety of organisms, including viruses and bacteria, result in an estimated 5,000 human deaths and 76 million illnesses annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Salmonella and Campylobacter are the most commonly reported bacterial causes of foodborne illness.

Although antimicrobial drug therapy is not recommended for most cases of campylobacteriosis or salmonellosis, it may be life-saving for invasive infections. Development of resistance to antimicrobial drugs recommended for treatment of invasive salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis may compromise treatment outcome, resulting in more severe illness. Retail foods such as raw meat may be contaminated with these resistant organisms.

The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) conducted a pilot study as a part of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System – Enteric Bacteria (NARMS) to collect data on the prevalence and antimicrobial drug susceptibility of foodborne bacteria in retail meat. In addition, this study provided the opportunity to develop laboratory methods for the testing of retail meat products and to determine the feasibility of conducting on-going surveillance of retail meats as part of the NARMS program.

National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System – Enteric Bacteria (NARMS)

To track development of antimicrobial drug resistance of foodborne pathogens in humans and animals, the FDA CVM implemented the NARMS program in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Infectious Diseases and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

NARMS was initiated in 1996 and initially monitored changes in antimicrobial susceptibilities of a sentinel organism, Salmonella, isolated from human and animal clinical specimens, from carcasses of food-producing animals and animal products at processing, and from on-farm samples. Sampling of retail meats and animal feed ingredients were added to NARMS in 2002. Also, additional foodborne bacterial organisms are now tested.

In 2003, NARMS is monitoring susceptibilities of human, animal, and retail meat isolates of non-typhoid Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter, and Enterococcus spp. Human isolates of Salmonella Typhi, Listeria, and Shigella are also tested. Human Vibrio isolates are being collected and will be tested in the future. Animal feed ingredient samples are tested for the presence of Salmonella, E. coli, and Enterococcus spp.

NARMS includes three laboratory testing-sites, all using comparable laboratory methods including culture, isolation, identification, storage, and susceptibility testing procedures. NARMS laboratory testing is conducted at CDC (human samples), USDA (animal samples), and FDA CVM (retail meat samples). The program’s primary goal is to provide descriptive data on the extent and trends over time in antimicrobial drug susceptibility of enteric organisms from human and animal populations.

NARMS also facilitates the identification of resistance in humans and animals as it arises, provides information to veterinarians and physicians on antimicrobial resistance, prolongs the life span of approved drugs by promoting the prudent and judicious use of antimicrobial drugs, aids in antimicrobial resistance research, and serves as a national source of enteric bacterial isolates. In addition, the NARMS isolates are invaluable for diagnostic test development, discovering new genes, characterizing molecular mechanisms associated with resistance, studying mobile gene elements, and assessing virulence and colonization potential of resistant isolates.