WASHINGTON, DC — The Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington Univ. recently reported that chicken, turkey and pork sold in grocery stores can harbor a disease-causing pathogen known asKlebsiellapneumoniae. In the study, published last month in the online journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases," research reveals that contaminated meat may be an important source of human exposure to

While the US food-safety system has mostly focused on a few well-known pathogens like Listeria, Salmonella and Campylobacter, researchers of the report said thatKlebsiellamay need to be added to the list of risky bugs in food products.

“This study is the first to suggest that consumers can be exposed to potentially angerousKlebsiellafrom contaminated meat,” said Lance Price, Ph.D., lead author of the study and a professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken. “The US government monitors food for only a limited number of bacterial species, but this study shows that focusing on the ‘usual suspects’ may not capture the full scope of foodborne pathogens.”

Price and his colleagues, including researchers from the Univ. of Minnesota, the Johns Hopkins Univ. School of Medicine and others, discovered that 47 percent of the 508 meat products purchased from grocery stores in 2012 harboredKlebsiella, and that many of the strains recovered were resistant to antibiotics.

“As an infectious disease doctor, I have encountered Klebsiella pneumoniaein my patients. We tend to think of this organism as being one that individuals carry naturally or acquire from the environment,” said James Johnson, co-author of the study and a professor of Medicine at the Univ. of Minnesota. “This research suggests that we also can pick up these bacteria from the food we eat.”

Price said another drug-resistant pathogen in the food supply underscores the public health concern regarding antibiotic use in food animal production.

“We want to quantify the relationship between antibiotic use in food animal production and antibiotic-resistant infections in people,” said Price, who recently launched the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (ARAC) at Milken. “Meanwhile, there is one big thing that can be done to protect human health in relation to antibiotic-resistant foodborne bacteria: stop overusing antibiotics in food-animal production.”