Student Exposes Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria in Fresh Chicken

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by chickenfeathers, Dec 2, 2007.


    , 01 December 2007

    Student exposes bugs in chicken: [​IMG]

    A Christchurch teenager's school science project has exposed multiple antibiotic-resistant bugs in fresh chicken sold in supermarkets.

    Jane Millar's discovery, as a 17-year-old St Margaret's College student, is being compared with the two schoolgirls who rumbled the makers of Ribena over false claims about vitamin C levels.

    Millar's findings of a range of resistant bacteria in chickens that could compromise antibiotic treatment in humans are expected to cause similar waves in medical circles.

    The key finding was that the bacteria have developed resistance to antibiotics not used in the poultry industry but important for treating serious infections in humans.

    Scientists are calling for further investigation and the discovery is about to be published in the New Zealand Institute of Medical Laboratory Science's journal.

    Millar's chicken experiment began as part of an International Baccalaurette Diploma during her Year 13 last year.

    She bought six fresh chickens - free-range, barn-raised and organic - from a Christchurch supermarket. She took samples from each bird and grew bug colonies, which she used to test different antibiotics.

    Apramycin is an antibiotic used sparingly by the New Zealand poultry industry to treat infections.

    The bacteria of two chickens tested resistant to apramycin. They also proved resistant to another two antibiotics from the same family - gentamicin and tobramycin - used for serious human infections.

    Gentamicin is not used by the poultry industry; tobramycin is restricted to human use only.

    "The main finding is that we can create resistance to medically important antibiotics by using antibiotics that are presumably safe in agriculture," Millar said.

    Resistant bacteria such as those found in the chicken could live in the human intestinal tract and easily transfer their resistances to other bugs, she said. This process produced superbugs in humans that were hard to treat, resulting in prolonged illness and a greater risk of death.

    Millar's mentor, John Aitken, a medical laboratory scientist from Southern Community Laboratories, was surprised that the range of resistance showed up in such a small sample.

    "What Jane has done is taken a very small snapshot and it has shown a surprising observation," he said. "But it's a time-specific snapshot and it's not a good look."

    Poultry Industry Association executive director Michael Brooks said the use of antibiotics in chickens was heavily regulated.

    "The industry works closely with the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) to ensure the safety of all poultry products," he said.

    Brooks commended Millar on her work and said the association had provided her with data on the industry.

    Millar believes the use of apramycin should be halted until a larger study is done on its consequences.

    "You need to do a big investigation and find out how much apramycin is being used now and what kind of resistances are coming out," she said.

  2. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD

    Ok, so what's new? This has been going on for years. By cooking and eating that chicken fully, the bacteria should be killed. I've done bacterial cultures off my own nose literally and found that there was at least one colony that was resistant to penicillin and this other antibiotic that I don't remember. The good part of the immune system is that it is what fights infections. Antibiotics do not kill all bacteria and it is up to your own body or what ever animal's body it is to kill off the ones not affected.

    The problem is not only poultry but our daily lives. Using antibacterial soaps, taking or giving antibiotics too often, and not finishing antibiotic prescriptions is a more pressing issue. I've heard that up to 2/3 of deaths in hospitals are due to secondary infections of bacteria resistant to antibiotics used in them.

    At least the article is bringing to light antibiotic resistance, but I think it is drawing attention and overemphasis on just one part of the story.

    Edit: It is very easy to contaminate bacterial cultures... just the fact that an antibiotic resistant bacterium was found to a antibiotic that is only used on humans raises flags for me. To me that indicates a post contamination of the meat from a human source who would have carried those bacteria, or time where the bacteria from post death could have gone through the meat and grown while in storage. Shoot, we have billions of bacteria crawling all over us. Most are beneficial because they take up space of the ones that make us sick. Without bacteria in our guts, we would be unable to digest most of our food. I want to say that without them, we would need to consume upwards of 80lbs of food a day.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2007
  3. silkiechicken,

    Excellent comment! [​IMG]

  4. Rosalind

    Rosalind Songster

    Mar 25, 2007
    To me that indicates a post contamination of the meat from a human source who would have carried those bacteria, or time where the bacteria from post death could have gone through the meat and grown while in storage.

    I doubt they'd grow in storage, most bacteria are not psychrophiles (cold-tolerant). But yes, I would put money on it that the chicken could have easily been contaminated by a worker carrying the bug.

    This is one reason I am all for rigorous enforcement of labor laws. Employees need to have lots and lots of sick days if they are handling something like food that will be consumed by another person--they should not need the $$ so badly they have to come to work sick. If food processors are paying people under the table or so badly that their employees are coughing cooties all over our food, then they need to be shut down by the Health Dept.

    Without seeing the genetic profile of the resistance (there are different types), can't really tell where the resistance was acquired.​
  5. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD

    Quote:I'd like to see more info on it too since there is so much more than it just growing on the plate within such a distance from the antibiotic disc. If that is what she used to test for resistance that is. Who knows how long she had the chickens in transport or how long it took to go through processing. You can't watch every chicken or meat product that goes through the hands of workers. Like you can't put back a bird you dropped on the floor, but what if you dropped your pen and just picked it back up while forgetting to change gloves?

    But hey, at least this might open some eyes, just hope it doesn't get all twisted up like a lot of health and science things.
  6. If food processors are paying people under the table or so badly that their employees are coughing cooties all over our food, then they need to be shut down by the Health Dept.

    Amen to that...

    And not just food processors.

    I work as a customer service rep for a nursing home. Sometimes I wonder how healthy are our kitchen employees...


  7. pipermark

    pipermark Songster

    Jan 26, 2007
    Based on the story, we can all speculate all sorts of things, bottom line not enough information was provided. It didn't even mention which birds the resistant bacteria came from. If it was from the free range bird, throws the all the conclusions out of wack.
  8. MandyH

    MandyH You'll shoot your eye out!

    Let me just say something here. Not until I became a mother did I ever care about lots of things. Now I have a 2 year old and the world is a much scarier place. I am a nurse and have never been sick in my adult life except for sinus issues, same for dh and thank God, dd. I guess your immune system gets so full of crap that you become tolerant to a lot of stuff when exposed on a regular basis. What I want to say is that the things going on around us these days are scary as h%ll. The food we eat will eventually end up killing us from so many preservatives or cross contamination, or melamine etc... The antibiotic resistant diseases that are out now are horrific and becoming commonplace. I remember when the flesh eating disease came out years ago and it scared me to death, now look at everything else around us!!! It makes me worry for my child as she grows and experiences more of the world and the horrible things in it.
  9. Dodgegal79

    Dodgegal79 Songster

    Dec 1, 2007
    Princeton BC Canada
    The articule doesn't say it was good or bad bacteria. We need some bacteria around to make life work. As Silkie says, cooking should kill the ones that would cause a problem.
  10. SeaChick

    SeaChick Songster

    Apr 25, 2007
    Southern Maine
    If the chickens she used were really reaised "organically" then how would they have been exposed to poultry antibiotics? Perhaps either New Zealand's organic standards are different than ours, (or their labeling standards as lax as ours have become) or the bugs came from a human worker handling them, as previously proposed........

    Either way, a good reminder not to over-use antibiotics, either in antibacterial soaps, our own meds consumption, or what we give our animals.....

    Thanks for the post.

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