Microbiological quality and antimicrobial resistance characterization of Salmonella spp. in fresh milk value chains in Ghana.
Consumer perception of poor hygiene of fresh milk products is a major barrier to promotion of milk consumption as an intervention to alleviate the burden of malnutrition in Ghana. Fresh milk is retailed raw, boiled, or processed into unfermented cheese and spontaneously fermented products in unlicensed outlets. In this study, we have determined microbiological quality of informally retailed fresh milk products and characterized the genomic diversity and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) patterns of non-typhoidal Salmonella (NTS) in implicated products. A total of 159 common dairy products were purchased from five traditional milk markets in Accra. Samples were analysed for concentrations of aerobic bacteria, total and fecal coliforms, Escherichia coli, staphylococci, lactic acid bacteria and yeast and moulds. The presence of Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus were determined. AMR of Salmonella against 18 antibiotics was experimentally determined. Genome sequencing of 19 Salmonella isolates allowed determination of serovars, antigenic profiles, prediction of AMR genes in silico and inference of phylogenetic relatedness between strains. Raw and heat-treated milk did not differ significantly in overall bacterial quality (P = 0.851). E. coli O157:H7 and Staphylococcus aureus were present in 34.3% and 12.9% of dairy products respectively. Multidrug resistant (MDR) Salmonella enterica serovars Muenster and Legon were identified in 11.8% and 5.9% of unfermented cheese samples respectively. Pan genome analysis revealed a total of 3712 core genes. All Salmonella strains were resistant to Trimethoprim/Sulfamethoxazole, Cefoxitin, Cefuroxime Axetil and Cefuroxime. Resistance to Chloramphenicol (18%) and Ciprofloxacin (100%), which are first line antibiotics used in treatment of NTS bacteremia in Ghana, was evident. AMR was attributed to presence and/or mutations in the following genes: golS, sdiA for cephalosporins, aac(6')-Iy, ant(9) for aminoglycosides, mdtK, gyrA, gyrB, parC, parE for quinolones and cat1, cat4 for phenicols. Phylogenetic analysis based on accessory genes clustered S. Legon strains separately from the S. Muenster strains. These strains were from different markets suggesting local circulation of related strains. Our study justifies consumer resistance to consumption of unripened soft cheese without further lethal heat treatment, and provides evidence that supports the Ghana Health Service recommendation for use of 3rd generation cephalosporins for the treatment of MDR NTS infections.