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Evira: 22% of Finnish chicken samples contain 'super bacteria'

Finland's food safety watchdog says that there are rising levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in domestic broiler samples – but that the risk to human health is low as long as proper handling procedures are used.

Broilerin rintafileitä kaupan lihatiskillä.
Chicken breasts on sale at a grocery store in Vantaa. Image: Jyrki Lyytikkä / Yle

Research by the Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) indicates that 22 percent of the fresh chicken on retail sale in Finland last year contained antibiotic-resistant 'super bacteria'. These included bacteria that produce extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL) and AmpC enzymes. However it says the risk of transmission to humans is low, with no serious infections so far been diagnosed in Finland from these bacteria. All the broiler meat tested by Evira was domestic.

Of 309 samples, 53 contained E. coli bacteria, which produce AmpC enzymes, while 15 had ESBL-producing bacteria. These are resistant to the most widely-used class of antibiotics, known as beta-lactams, which includes penicillin.

These bacteria have been traced to imported hens, which carry the bacteria in their digestive tracts.

Don't touch raw chicken

Anna-Liisa Myllyniemi, who heads the Food Microbiology Analytics department at Evira, says the findings were not a surprise.

"I wouldn't be particularly worried, as raw chicken often includes other harmful bacteria chicken so it must always be handled carefully and this does not call for any additional measures," she says.

ESBL bacteria can be destroyed by heating the meat to at least 75 degrees Celsius.

"Avoid touching raw chicken and always use separate utensils and dishes, which must be properly washed," advises Myllyniemi.

Farmers' union blames Scottish grandparents

The incidence of such 'superbugs' has risen from corresponding Evira studies in the past. In 2013, such bacteria were found in 13 percent of domestic broiler samples, down from 18 percent a year earlier. Much lower figures have been found in beef and pork.

On Friday the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK) downplayed the latest findings.

"Finnish meat is safe and responsibly produced," it said in a statement. "We do not use antibiotics at all during breeding, unlike in central Europe and elsewhere in the world. The absence of antibiotics limits the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. They have come to Finland from Scotland, the origin of our broilers' grandparent generation."

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