The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced that King Soopers, Inc. of Denver, Colorado, was recalling 466,236 pounds of ground beef products due to potential Salmonella Typhimurim DT104 contamination yesterday.  The recall was initiated after public health officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention traced a Salmonella Typhimurim DT104 outbreak among Colorado residents to the ground beef products.

Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 is an antibiotic-resistant strain of Salmonella, which can prove to be problematic for physicians treating patients who have eaten the contaminated ground beef and have become ill with Salmonella infections. 

In her 1997 paper, "Emergence of a Highly Virulent Strain of Salmonella typhimurium," M. Ellin Doyle, Ph.D. at the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wrote:

Some evidence indicts the increased use of veterinary drugs as a factor in the dramatic increase in drug resistance. Resistance to ciprofloxacin in DT104 isolates has increased from 1% in 1994 to 6% in 1995, coincident with the licensing of this drug for veterinary use in the UK in 1994 (2). Resistance to trimethoprim (present in 27% of DT104 isolates) may have been acquired in response to the use of this drug to combat bovine infections with DT104 resistant to other drugs. Surveys of S. typhimurium isolates from cattle and humans in Australia (16), France (17), Hong Kong (18), and Spain (19) all reveal an increased incidence of resistance to multiple antibiotics in this organism.

As yet, there have been no reports of S. typhimurium DT104 in the USA, but the rapid rise of this organism in the UK warns us in the USA to be vigilant. Increasing resistance to so many different antibiotics makes it very difficult to treat severe cases of human salmonellosis.

By 2000, if not before, Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 had spread to the United States.  Researchers from the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, Washington State University-Pullman published an article titled, "Multiresistant Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 infections of humans and domestic animals in the Pacific Northwest of the United States" after investigating a Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 outbreak among residents of the Pacific Northwest. 

In his testimony on food safety before the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce last March, William K. Hubbard stated:

Those peanut butter, pepper and spinach examples are just a few of the breakdowns that have caused our citizens to question their leaders’ ability to carry out this most quintessential governmental function – the safety of commodities that are so necessary for a healthy society. Indeed, some argue that our food supply is becoming less safe despite the progress that has been made in science and medicine in recent decades. It is certainly clear that there are trends that cry out for intervention by the Congress, namely:

  • New pathogens have emerged in foodstuffs, some unknown to science in years past, that are especially lethal when they contaminate our food. They have exotic names, such as Enterobacter sakazakii, E Coli 0157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Vibrio cholerae 0139, and Salmonella Typhimurium DT104, (emphasis added) but they all pose a significant threat of severe illness and death when our citizens contract them. And there is an expectation among scientists that yet more of these threats will be discovered in the future.

That Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 had not been identified as the source of an outbreak in the United States prior to 1997, and this "especially lethal" pathogen has been identified as the source of several outbreaks, including the current outbreak among Colorado residents, is alarming. 

The Colorado Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 outbreak should spark more conversation about HR 1549 – Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2009, which aims to preserve the use of antibiotics in food animals strictly for therapeutic use.