Microbial colonization and resistome dynamics in food processing environments of a newly opened pork cutting industry during 1.5 years of activity
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Background: The microorganisms that inhabit food processing environments (FPE) can strongly influence the associated food quality and safety. In particular, the possibility that FPE may act as a reservoir of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms, and a hotspot for the transmission of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) is a concern in meat processing plants. Here, we monitor microbial succession and resistome dynamics relating to FPE through a detailed analysis of a newly opened pork cutting plant over 1.5 years of activity. Results: We identified a relatively restricted principal microbiota dominated by Pseudomonas during the first 2 months, while a higher taxonomic diversity, an increased representation of other taxa (e.g., Acinetobacter, Psychrobacter), and a certain degree of microbiome specialization on different surfaces was recorded later on. An increase in total abundance, alpha diversity, and β-dispersion of ARGs, which were predominantly assigned to Acinetobacter and associated with resistance to certain antimicrobials frequently used on pig farms of the region, was detected over time. Moreover, a sharp increase in the occurrence of extended-spectrum β-lactamase- producing Enterobacteriaceae and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcaceae was observed when cutting activities started. ARGs associated with resistance to β-lactams, tetracyclines, aminoglycosides, and sulphonamides frequently co-occurred, and mobile genetic elements (i.e., plasmids, integrons) and lateral gene transfer events were mainly detected at the later sampling times in drains. Conclusions: The observations made suggest that pig carcasses were a source of resistant bacteria that then colonized FPE and that drains, together with some food-contact surfaces, such as equipment and table surfaces, represented a reservoir for the spread of ARGs in the meat processing facility.
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