A total of 2177 food samples collected from nine cities in northern China during 2005 to 2007 were screened for the presence of Listeria monocytogenes. All L. monocytogenes isolates were subjected to serotyping, antimicrobial susceptibility, pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), as well as PCR screening to identify genes responsible for tetracycline resistance [tet(L), tet(M), tet(K), tet(S) and tet(B)], transposon Tn. 916, and class 1 integron. Contamination with L. monocytogenes was detected in 4.13% (90/2177) of the total samples representing various food products. The pathogen was mainly isolated from frozen food made of wheat flour or rice products (26/252, 10.32%) and raw meat products (46/733, 6.28%). Besides, 3.31% (10/302) of cooked meat, 1.17% (4/343) of seafood, 0.98% (2/204) of non-fermented bean products and 0.62% (2/323) of vegetables samples were contaminated by this bacterium. The L. monocytogenes isolates belonged to five serotypes (1/2a, 1/2b, 1/2c, 4b, and 3a), with serotype 1/2a being dominant (48.88%). Antimicrobial resistance was most frequently observed for ciprofloxacin (17.8%), tetracycline (15.6%) and streptomycin (12.2%). Overall, resistance was observed against 14 out of 18 antimicrobials tested while multiple resistances occurred among 18.9% (17/90) isolates. Interestingly, two isolates were resistant to more than five antimicrobials. Among 14 tetracycline-resistant isolates, 13 carried tet(M) gene including nine possessing Tn. 916, and one harbored tet(S) gene. PFGE analysis revealed genetic heterogeneity among individual serotypes as well as scattered occurrence of some genotypes without any clear-cut correlation to source or food type. The widespread distribution of epidemiologically important serotypes (1/2a, 1/2b and 4b) of L. monocytogenes, and their resistance to commonly used antibiotics indicate a potential public health risk. Our data also indicate that L. monocytogenes could act as a reservoir of mobile tet genes along the food chain. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
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