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The widespread use of antibiotics in food animal production systems has resulted in the emergence of antibiotic resistant zoonotic bacteria that can be transmitted to humans through the food chain. Infection with antibiotic resistant bacteria negatively impacts on public health, due to an increased incidence of treatment failure and severity of disease. Development of resistant bacteria in food animals can result from chromosomal mutations but is more commonly associated with the horizontal transfer of resistance determinants borne on mobile genetic elements. Food may represent a dynamic environment for the continuing transfer of antibiotic resistance determinants between bacteria. Current food preservation systems that use a combination of environmental stresses to reduce growth of bacteria, may serve to escalate development and dissemination of antibiotic resistance among food related pathogens. The increasing reliance on biocides for pathogen control in food production and processing, heightens the risk of selection of biocide-resistant strains. Of particular concern is the potential for sublethal exposure to biocides to select for bacteria with enhanced multi-drug efflux pump activity capable of providing both resistance to biocides and cross-resistance to multiple antibiotics. Although present evidence suggests that biocide resistance is associated with a physiological cost, the possibility of the development of adaptive mutations conferring increased fitness cannot be ruled-out. Strategies aimed at inhibiting efflux pumps and eliminating plasmids could help to restore therapeutic efficacy to antibiotics and reduce the spread of antibiotic resistant foodborne pathogens through the food chain.
Walsh, C. and Fanning, S. (2008) Antimicrobial Resistance in Foodborne Pathogens - A Cause for Concern? Current Drug Targets, Volume 9, Number 9, September 2008, pp. 808-815(8).