Gastrointestinal carriage of Klebsiella pneumoniae is a predisposing factor for liver abscess in several Asian countries. To determine whether hypervirulent K. pneumoniae in the gut may be transmitted through food, we screened a range of raw and ready-to-eat retail food by culture and recovered K. pneumoniae in 21% (147 of 698) of samples tested. Based on PCR, no K. pneumoniae isolates carried the rmpA gene linked to community-acquired pyogenic liver abscess, providing no evidence of a link between food and liver disease. However, phenotypic resistance to multiple antibiotic classes was seen through disk diffusion tests, and carriage of genetic elements (wcaG and capsule types K1, K2, and K54) associated with increased virulence (8%, 11 of 147) was observed by PCR. Multidrug-resistant isolates were from raw vegetables, chicken or pork liver, and a ready-to-eat poultry dish; one multidrug-resistant K. pneumoniae isolate from raw bean sprouts was resistant to a third-generation cephalosporin (ceftriaxone). Although K. pneumoniae may be present in food without causing harm, we found isolates belonging to the K1 capsular serotype coexisting with the wcaG gene, one also conferring multidrug resistance. K. pneumoniae that carry antibiotic resistance genes, regardless of pathogenicity, may increase the available genetic pool of resistance along the food chain. Hygienic food handling practices are necessary to lower risks of acquiring K. pneumoniae and other opportunistic pathogens.
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