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This week at Hawk we’ve been reading about a fascinating topic in the world of food safety – antimicrobial resistance. This may not be something many food business owners are familiar with, but it’s currently a growing concern for governments and food providers. Let’s take a closer look at AMR and how it’s impacting the food space.

What is AMR?

Antimicrobial resistance is a process by which dangerous bacterial infections become immune to modern preventative techniques.

Today, our scientific community is constantly creating more and more methods of destroying dangerous bugs in food, including new immunisations, hygiene standards, and improved management techniques and processes.

As our techniques evolve, however, so do the bacteria themselves. Through adaptation and survival selection, some strains of bacteria are developing resistances to immunisations, antibiotics, and cleaning products. This happens through random mutation of a bacteria’s genes, which can then be exchanged with other bacteria (even of different types!). As bacteria are exposed to harmful environments, these random mutations give some bacteria a chance at survival, allowing them to proliferate faster than other bacteria.

This means that our techniques for keeping food safe gradually become less and less effective over time.

How deep is the problem?

According to the World Health Organisation, every country in the world is affected by AMR. It’s a developing concern in the healthcare sector, where resistant strains of TB, Malaria, and HIV have appeared. The mutations in AMR bacteria tend to allow them to be more prolific than normal bacteria. As such, infected patients are ill for longer, and are more likely to incubate and spread the infection to others.

In food, AMR has been highlighted as a serious future threat, with the FSA Chief Science Adviser estimating an impact of “10 million deaths annually by 2050” if AMR is left unchallenged. However, the FSA believes the risk to public health posed by AMR bacteria to be very low in the short-term.

What can be done?

Tackling AMR will require a collaborative approach between industry and legislators. Currently, the FSA is funding research that will help scientists to learn as much as they can about AMR and its role in the food chain. They’re also working with food producers to help lower the risk of AMR contaminated foods, as well as supporting the reduction of antibiotic use in animals and fish.

How does it affect you?

As a food business owner, hopefully, you’re unlikely to feel the effects of AMR anytime soon. However, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of antimicrobial resistant strains of bacteria in your food. Although it’s very difficult to kill AMR bacteria, early isolation of a bacterial gene mutation can help to stop it spreading further. The FSA stresses the importance of the ‘four C’s’ in preventing the spread of resistant genes: cooking, cleaning, cross-contamination, and chilling. It states that the risk of AMR in food can be reduced “in similar ways to that of non-AMR microbes”, with a focus on washing vegetables and cooking food thoroughly.

For more information on antimicrobial resistance, take a look at the Food Standards Agency’s campaign page, as well as information by the World Healthy Organisation.