New Study: MRSA Superbug Bacteria Found in Detroit Meat

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virusFrom bedbugs and now to meat, the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) superbug that had been found riding on bed bugs has now been found in raw beef, turkey and chicken carried in grocery stores in Detroit.

On Wednesday, researchers reported the bacteria strain methicillin-resistant MRSA found on the meat does not respond to antibiotics. Don’t become a vegetarian though just yet, experts say.

Supermarket meat products have always had bacteria such as E.coli and salmonella that make people sick, but when cooked well and with hygienic practices (frequent hand washing), the bacteria is killed. This is what the Preventive Medicine Chair at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dr. William Schaffner, confirmed and also stated that with the new bug the hygiene and safe food preparation messages should just be reinforced.

“We’ve known for a long time that raw meat and poultry purchased in supermarkets can be contaminated with bugs that can make us sick, like salmonella and E. coli. As long as we clean our hands and our utensils and we cook the food, we kill the bacteria. Even though this is a new bug, that shouldn’t change anything. It should just reinforce all those messages,” said Dr. William Schaffner

The MRSA study

Sample size: 289 samples of raw meat (156 beef, 57 turkey and 76 chicken)

No of grocery stores involved: 30 in Detroit, Michigan

Period: August 2009 to January 2010


Three presumptive Staphylococcus aureus colonies were identified per sample when species-specific PCR and coagulase tests were done.

Sixty-five samples yielded the S. aureus bacteria: 32 beef, 14 turkey, 19 chicken. Six samples, 2 beef, 1 turkey and 3 chicken tested positive for MRSA, which was evidenced by mecA being present.

The study pointed out that the variations between this study and a previous study findings were probably caused by the exclusion of pork in the current study, the sampling was done during the cold season, and differences in geographic location.

Making Headlines

The study was published on Wednesday by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases. Though not the first study to detect MRSA in raw meat, few such reports have come from the U.S. and so it has been making the headlines nationwide.

Detroit’s Wayne State University’s Dr. Yifan Zhang is the author of the report and noted that previous studies had shown the bacteria in beef and pork, but this time poultry was also found to have the bug. Zhang, an assistant professor at the university’s department of nutrition and food science said that she was surprised that her study caught so much attention.

“Previous studies have shown MRSA in pork and beef, but we found MRSA poultry in our study,” said report author Dr. Yifan Zhang, assistant professor in the department of nutrition and food science at Wayne State University in Detroit.

She also pointed out a key difference between the MRSA and other bacteria that’s food borne – the superbug lives in gashes, not in the gut like the other bacteria. Hence, it would live on skin and not in the intestines. This makes handling contaminated meat more risky than ingesting it.

Zhang advises consumers to wash their hands before handling meat and afterward as well. For those who have open wounds on their hands, they should wear gloves when handling meat. She added that normal cleaning products and soap would kill the bacteria in addition to cooking.

The good news is that CDC statistics of the past 10 years show that infection rates caused by MRSA have reduced. The study however, serves to remind us that we should cook well and keep clean in all our handling of food.