Perhaps you are aware of the growing concern over antibiotic resistance. It is rapidly becoming a concerning issue. Many of our antibiotics no longer work effectively. Long gone are the days of penicillin and amoxicillin. Several of the antibiotics developed only a few years ago are no longer working.
You may ask how this affects you? We live in a first world country. We have health care, sanitation, and public services that ensure a certain level of hygiene. This is only an issue in less developed areas of the world, right? Nope. This is going to directly impact all of us and sooner than we thought.
The World Heath Organization (WHO) published a list of bacteria that they have prioritized as the biggest threats on February 25, 2017. This is the breakdown of the bacteria and the strongest antibiotic that organism is resistant to:
Priority 1: CRITICAL
1. Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant
2. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant
3. Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing
Priority 2: HIGH
1. Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant
2. Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant
3. Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant
4. Campylobacter spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
5. Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant
6. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant
Priority 3: MEDIUM
1. Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible
2. Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant
3. Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
Five of those bacteria; enterobacter, staphylococcus, campylobacter, salmonellae, and shigella, are often contracted by consuming adulterated food. The CDC has a very simple chart that details the estimated numbers. The numbers are estimated because most individuals suffering from a food born illness don’t report it. Usually we attribute it to a stomach flu. Those 24 hour bugs you hear people complaining about in the office are most likely food poisoning. And if you think you know what caused it you are most likely wrong. It takes days and sometimes weeks to develop symptoms. I don’t remember what I ate over the weekend, let alone last week.
You are probably thinking that this is not something of major concern. After all, we have regulations, rules, and laws to keep our food safe. That is what the USDA and FDA are in place to do, ensure safe food. Without going into the current shortcomings of both these agencies (because nothing is perfect) or delving into the debate about country of origin lets take a look at the proposed future for all the agencies that keep food born illness at bay.
The current administration wants to reduce regulation. It was a major part of their campaign. They say it will be good for business and that will be good for employment. But consider that part of that includes reducing the number of inspection on food and drugs. The executive order to reform regulations was signed on February 24, 2017. Now, by executive order, these agencies will need to remove two regulations in order to institute one new one. Now would be the time to call your congressmen and tell them what parts of the food code you want to keep. While you are at it, ask them to pressure the new administration to put all the USDA information back on the public website. It appears to have been a miscommunication, but the data is still not available. This doesn’t just impact the public, industry professional use that as well. Last week a colleague needed data and had to call congress and file a request. We all know how quickly they move. Want more opinions? This article from late January had the opinion of several top people in the food industry.
So to summarize this for you there is a rapidly growing concern that our science is not keeping pace with the bacteria, it puts the general public at risk, half of the concerning bacteria can be contracted through food, the white house wants to reduce regulatory oversight of many organizations including the USDA and FDA, information is being removed or withheld, and there really is not a plan once the antibiotics stop working. Stop and think about what that would be like, or check out the BBC if you can’t imagine. Now go get a stiff drink, because you are going to need one.