A Superbug In the Food Supply?

With antibiotic-resistant bacteria a growing concern around the world, American and Canadian authorities regularly analyze a handful of food products - mostly commercial meats - for contaminants.

But University of Saskatchewan professor Joel Rubin wondered about all the foods that don't receive testing.

A package of squid gave him - and us - something to worry about.

Photo: Bryan Jones on Flickr
Squid Costume: Bryan Jones on Flickr

With antibiotic-resistant bacteria a growing concern around the world, American and Canadian authorities regularly analyze a handful of food products – mostly commercial meats – for contaminants.

But University of Saskatchewan professor Joel Rubin wondered about all the foods that don’t receive testing.

So he and his lab took a look at some products they found in Canadian grocery stores. They analyzed black sea cucumbers, frogs’ legs, and squid.

The squid gave them – and us – something to worry about.

Imported from South Korea and sold in a Chinese-Canadian market, the cephalopod contained a bacterium capable of producing an enzyme that can withstand some of our last remaining antibiotics.

 

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Rubin told KCRW’s Press Play that he fears the bacterium could share its resistance gene with pathogens in the environment, making them nearly or totally impossible to beat when they infect humans.

The squid’s contaminant could also introduce antibiotic resistance directly into people’s guts before they get sick. Later, if they pick up an infection, they may not respond to treatment.

Rubin doesn’t know how the sea creature picked up this terrifying intruder. He says it could have been floating around in the ocean, or it could have been introduced during food processing or shipping or at the retail store.

Previously, people have been exposed to antibiotic-resistant bacteria while travelling abroad or visiting hospitals. Now, though, Rubin says there’s a chance it could enter your North American kitchen.