FDA Releases 2012 NARMS Retail Meat Annual Report, 2013 Preliminary Data; Some Encouraging Early Trends Seen

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released two reports that measure antimicrobial resistance in certain bacteria isolated from raw meat and poultry collected through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). [Source: FDA, CVM; April 13, 2015]

The agency is releasing its 2012 Retail Meat Report, which summarizes key findings in antimicrobial resistance related to raw chicken, ground turkey, ground beef and pork chops collected at retail stores. The second report released today is the 2013 Retail Meat Interim Report, which contains data from January – December 2013 and focuses only on Salmonella, a pathogen of concern in foodborne disease outbreaks. Information includes serotype distribution, prevalence by food source and state, and select resistance patterns. To provide data in a timelier manner, the FDA intends to issue the retail meat interim reports biannually; although the agency provided a full year of data in its 2013 Retail Meat Interim Report. The data in the biannual interim reports only reflect prevalence and not trends.

The FDA’s annual NARMS reports focus on foodborne pathogens that display resistance to antibiotics that are considered important in human medicine, as well as those that are multidrug resistant (described as resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics). The retail meat arm of the NARMS program collects samples of grocery store chicken, ground turkey, ground beef and pork chops, and tests for non-typhoidal Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli and Enterococcus, to determine whether such bacteria are resistant to various antibiotics used in human and veterinary medicine. Enterococcus and most E. coli are not considered major foodborne pathogens but are included mainly because they are helpful in understanding how resistance occurs and spreads.

Both reports cover time periods that are prior to FDA's publication in December 2013 of Guidance for Industry #213, which announced a specific strategy for animal drug companies to voluntarily revise the labeling of their medically important antimicrobials used in the feed and water of food-producing animals to withdraw approved production uses and place the remaining therapeutic uses of these products under veterinary oversight by December 2016.

NARMS was established in 1996 as a partnership between the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to track antibiotic resistance in foodborne bacteria. NARMS is critically important for monitoring trends in antimicrobial resistance among foodborne bacteria collected from humans, retail meats and food animals. In particular, it assists the FDA in making data-driven decisions on the approval of safe and effective antimicrobial drugs for animals.

NARMS reports describe antimicrobial resistance among certain foodborne bacteria. Consumers can help protect themselves from foodborne bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, by following four basic food safety tips: clean, separate, cook, chill. Learn more at http://www.foodsafety.gov/keep/basics/.

Together, the reports reveal a number of encouraging findings:
Although current cephalosporin resistance levels are above 2002 levels, a recent decrease in third-generation cephalosporin resistance among poultry meats continued in 2012 and 2013. Resistance in Salmonella from retail chicken declined from a peak of 38 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2012 and continued to decline to 20 percent in 2013. Resistance in ground turkey peaked in 2011 at 22 percent and declined to 18 percent in 2012, falling to 9 percent by 2013.

Salmonella from retail meats remained susceptible to ciprofloxacin, one of the most important antibiotics for treating Salmonella infections. Similarly, Salmonella from retail meats were susceptible to azithromycin, another important antibiotic recommended for treatment of Salmonella and other intestinal pathogens.

While multi-drug resistant Salmonella (resistant to three or more classes of antibiotics) was detected in all retail meat sources there was a decline in the overall proportion of Salmonella poultry isolates that were multi-drug resistant between 2011 and 2013. [Editor's note: FDA updated this paragraph on April 15 altering the original posting.]

In 2012, only 1% of C. jejuni from retail chicken were resistant to erythromycin, the drug of choice for treating Campylobacter infections.

The reports also reveal a finding of concern:
Since the FDA withdrew approval for the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry in 2005, we have not observed any consistent changes in fluoroquinolone resistance among C. jejuni and C. coli recovered from retail chicken.