S-Group guarded on super bacteria found in imported pork products

A representative of the food retail duopolist S-Group has played down concerns about the MRSA super bacteria found in pork products imported into Finland. The food safety watchdog Evira found the antibiotic-resistant bug in meat products on sale at outlets across the capital area.

Image: Juha Silander / Yle

An Yle check found that the S-Group’s Prisma supermarket in Espoo is stocked with Danish Christmas hams, some of which were found to contain the difficult-to-treat MRSA bacterium.

The matter came to light when journalists from Yle’s investigative TV programme MOT and its Swedish-language in-depth reportage programme Spotlight tested 25 packages of pork products from different parts of the greater Helsinki area.

The Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) tested the samples under controlled conditions in its labs and found evidence of the super bacteria MRSA in two of the 25 packages.

The bacteria was identified in Danish frozen ham as well as in Dutch bacon purchased from one of Kesko's K-market outlets in Helsinki.

Kesko Group pulls products

Immediately following the disclosures, Kesko, Finland's other main food retailer, announced that it was recalling the entire batch of pork products from supermarket shelves.

“We pulled them off the market just to be on the safe side, and other batches will remain in our warehouse,” said Matti Kalervo, Kesko’s VP responsible for sustainability.

Kesko said it also plans to conduct its own MRSA analyses before deciding on additional action.

S Group "won’t necessarily take any action"

Competing directly against the Kesko Group, the S-Group adopted a different approach to the findings. The company said it would not withdraw Danish hams from sale, in spite of the fact that MRSA bacteria had been found in some samples.

“As a matter of fact we won’t necessarily do anything about the matter,” said Sari Ristaniemi, who’s responsible for the S-Group’s quality assurance and accountability units.

When MOT reporters pointed out that the decision could mean that consumers would be at risk of purchasing hams containing the stubborn bacteria, Ristaniemi responded:

“That’s quite possible. We don’t see it as a food safety risk,” she added.

The MRSA bacteria cannot be transmitted by eating cooked pork. However it can be transmitted in cases where individuals handle raw meat. Evira told Yle that it does not currently advise retailers to recall products found to contain MRSA, and that it is up to companies themselves to decide how to react.

Evira stressed the importance of hygiene in food preparation.

“I would handle meat with extreme care, by washing my hands before and after handling it, using different implements for meat and raw foodstuff and heating meat thoroughly to ensure it’s cooked through,” advised Evira’s director of resistance studies Anna-Liisa Myllyniemi.

MOT’s journalists found no evidence of MRSA bacteria in Finnish meat products, however Evira said it would not rule out the possibility that the super bacteria could also be present in domestic meat. The food safety authority estimated that MRSA could be found in 15 percent of Finnish pig farms.

Edit: This article has been updated to reflect ongoing developments in the item.