A recent study has provided insight into the prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus on the hands of foodservice employees, as well as the pathogenicity and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) of S. aureus isolates.

Over a period of 13 months, researchers in Portugal collected a total of 167 swab samples from the hands of foodservice employees working at restaurants and for catering services. S. aureus was present on more than 11 percent of hand swab samples, which the researchers note is unsurprising as the human body is a reservoir for microorganisms. The transmission of S. aureus to food by food handlers with insufficient personal hygiene is a common cause of contamination.

Of the total S. aureus isolates, the majority had pathogenic potential, with more than 60 percent of strains containing at least one enterotoxin gene. Symptoms caused by S. aureus may include nausea, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle pain and moderate fever, occurring between one and six hours after the ingestion of contaminated food, and typically not lasting more than a few hours to a couple of days. According to the researchers, although S. aureus is a frequent cause of food poisoning, it appears to be statistically underreported due to the brevity of the symptoms. Additionally, the researchers state that, although Staphylococcus species are easily destroyed by pasteurization or cooking, S. aureus enterotoxins are resistant to treatments such as heat and low pH, making the adoption of good hygiene practices crucial to controlling the pathogen.

Notably, more than 44 percent of the isolated S. aureus strains were found to be resistant to erythromycin, a macrolide antibiotic frequently used to treat S. aureus infections. Again, the researchers stress that good hygiene is important in decreasing the spread of AMR through foodborne S. aureus poisoning.