What started as a small pilot study at the University of Saskatchewan ended with a surprising discovery.

Joseph Rubin, an assistant professor of veterinary microbiology at the U of S, found an antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a food product sold in Saskatoon.

“In Canada and the United States, we have some really good resistant surveillance programs that look at meat products," Rubin said. "But these programs are primarily targeted at beef, pork, and poultry. So there's a whole world of other food items that people are purchasing that really aren't captured in these programs. So that was what I was interested in looking at.”

'Proper food hygiene and meat safety is something that is really important for consumers all the time' - Joseph Rubin, assistant professor of veterinary microbiology

Rubin said he then decided to look at some niche market food products - primarily seafood - to see what he could find.

“We were actually a little bit surprised that we were able to find this organism that we did.” Rubin said.

The tests resulted in Rubin discovering an organism which is resistant to a class of antibiotics.

“This organism was actually identified in a very small pilot study," he said. "So we actually only tested six samples and only two squid samples. One of them had this organism.”

Rubin said he was a little bit surprised to find it in such a small study, but it is something the global healthcare community has expected for a while.

“With the study that we've done, we really don't have any further insight," he said. "It certainly could have acquired it in its environment. It could have been cross-contamination, processing or shipping or cross-contamination at the point of sale. We really don't have any evidence at this point and so we need a lot more research and that's what we're starting to develop some plans for now.”

There are still more questions Rubin wants to answer.

“Just how widespread are these carbapenem-resistant organisms?" Rubin said. "Can we find them in other food products? Can we find them in other food products from other parts of Canada? What types of food are they in? And are those foods imported from any particular place in the world?"

Food hygiene and meat safety important

The ultimate goals are to determine the risk factors for exposure to these organisms, as well as finding intervention strategies to help reduce the spread.

While Rubin said his finding are "worrisome" he said if you cook food properly - in this case squid - it will kill the bacteria.

“Proper food hygiene and meat safety is something that is really important for consumers all the time, whether there's resistant organisms or not," he said.

People should also make sure to prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen, using different cutting boards for meats and vegetables, lots of cleaning of surfaces and hand hygiene, and also proper cooking.

The CFIA currently recommends cooking seafood to an internal temperature of 74 degrees. 

Rubin said, “This organism itself probably wouldn't hurt you.” However, eating this organism "could share those resistance genes with other bacteria living in your intestine, which may be more pathogenic."