Science & Tech

Sushi could secretly be spreading antibiotic resistance

Sushi could secretly be spreading antibiotic resistance
Bacteria can change form to avoid being detected by antibiotics

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an increasing area of concern for health experts and scientists are concerned that the popular food sushi could be spreading it.

Researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology were interested in looking at the health implications of sushi, which is considered pretty standard fare in the country.

Dr. Hyejeong Lee, who recently completed her PhD at the Department of Biotechnology and Food Science at NTNU, investigated different varieties of Aeromonas bacteria in seafood products that aren’t processed in a way that reduces bacteria, such as sashimi (raw fish) and cold-smoked fish.

Lee explained: “The goal was to gain more knowledge about Aeromonas in this type of seafood – both the bacteria’s role in the deterioration of the product and in causing disease. Furthermore, we wanted to see if raw seafood can spread antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

While Listeria monocytogenes is the most well-known bacteria that can cause illness from unprocessed seafood, the prevalence of Aeromonas in similar products is an increasing worry for scientists for another reason.

This is because Aeromonas bacteria frequently exchange genetic material with other bacteria in the sea, which means they can inherit and spread resistance to antibiotics before ending up in sushi.

Lee explained: “Some strains of Aeromonas can also spread antibiotic resistance from one type of bacteria to another. Eating seafood infected by resistant bacteria is a likely way these bacteria can spread from marine animals and environments to humans.”

Resistant bacteria are foreseen to be a big problem in the future, with the worst-case scenario being that few or no antibiotics will work at treating them.

Experts believe it is important that antibiotic resistance is seen as a broad approach that is seriously considered in all aspects of society.

Anita Nordeng Jakobsen, associate professor at NTNU’s Department of Biotechnology and Food Science, explained: “To combat the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it is important that we adopt a broad approach that looks at animal and human health, food production and the environment together in order to achieve better public health.”

Still, Lee was quick to emphasise that the risk of getting sick from Aeromonas is very small, especially for healthy people.

But, she stressed: “Aeromonas is often ignored when we talk about food safety. I think my research highlights that the food industry needs to pay more attention to these bacteria."

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