According to a study by the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA) in retail pork products in the U.S. is higher than researchers originally thought. The study represents the largest sampling of raw meat products for MRSA contamination to date, and is published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

It is estimated that MRSA – which can occur in raw meat products and in the environment – is responsible for approximately 185,000 cases of food poisoning each year. The bacteria does not respond to several antibiotics and can cause severe infections of the bloodstream, heart, lungs, skin and other organs.

After collecting 395 raw pork samples from 36 stores in New Jersey, Iowa and Minnesota, the researchers found that approximately 7% (26 of the 395) carried MRSA.

Tara Smith, Ph.D., lead author of the study, interim director of the UI Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases and assistant professor of epidemiology, explained:

“This study shows that the meat we buy in our grocery stores has a higher prevalence of staph than we originally thought. With this knowledge, we can start to recommend safer ways to handle raw meat products to make it safer for the consumer.”

Furthermore, no considerable difference in MRSA contamination was found between pigs raised without antibiotics or antibiotic growth promotants and conventional pork products.

Smith said:

“We were surprised to see no significant difference in antibiotic-free and conventionally produced pork. Though it’s possible that this finding has more to do with the handling of the raw meat at the plant than the way the animals were raised, it’s certainly worth exploring further.”

Written By Grace Rattue