Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most serious threats to medical science. Food supply is recognized as a potential source of resistant bacteria, leading to the development of surveillance programs targeting primarily poultry, pork, and beef. These programs are limited in scope, not only in the commodities tested, but also in the organisms targeted (Escherichia coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter); consequently, neither the breadth of food products available nor the organisms that may harbour clinically relevant and (or) mobile resistance genes are identified. Furthermore, there is an inadequate understanding of how international trade in food products contributes to the global dissemination of resistance. This is despite the recognized role of international travel in disseminating antimicrobial-resistant organisms, notably New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase. An increasing number of studies describing antimicrobial-resistant organisms in a variety of imported foods are summarized in this review.


  • The scale of the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is well recognized to be a grave threat to public health (World Health Organization 2018)

  • In the case of meat, fecal contamination of carcasses is the primary route by which potentially resistant enteric pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter spp. enter the food supply (Yalçin et al 2001; Ashby et al 2003). These organisms have been the primary targets for national surveillance programs including the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) and the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria (NARMS) in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2016; Government of Canada 2018)

  • The tenacity of antimicrobial resistance, and the need for longitudinal monitoring in food animals, is highlighted by the continued presence of vancomycin resistant enterococci in European food animals in the 2010s despite the removal of the glycopeptide avoparcin as a growth promoter in the 1990s (Aarestrup 1995; Bager et al 1997; Borgen et al 2000; Novais et al 2005; Garcia-Migura et al 2007; Davies 2008; Ghidán et al 2008; Bortolaia et al 2015; Leinweber et al 2018). These findings suggest that a reservoir of clinically relevant resistance can be maintained in food animal populations in the absence of antimicrobial selection pressure on farms (World Health Organization 2011; Larsen et al 2011; Food and Drug Administration 2013, 2017; Public Health Agency of Canada 2016)

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Title A review of antimicrobial resistance in imported foods

Rubinc* aDepartment of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada dDepartment of Ecosystem and Public Health, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada cDepartment of Veterinary Microbiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada

Summary of the scope of current national resistance surveillance programs
Not monitored
Indicator Species
Study Region Resistance Genes
Salmonella Derby
South Korea
China Iraq
Chicken carcasses
Brazil Not reported
Resistance genes

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