Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis in foods: current evidence and potential consequences


  • Paper of presentation given at Yakult conference, Dublin, March 2005

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Mycobacterium avium ssp. paratuberculosis (MAP), the cause of Johne's disease in cattle, sheep and goats, may have a role in Crohn's disease in humans. Animals with Johne's disease shed viable MAP in their milk and faeces. The organism is also widely disseminated in the blood and tissues of infected animals. Consequently, transmission to humans via consumption of animal-derived foods is a distinct possibility. Milk, other dairy products, beef and water have been identified as possible food vehicles of transmission. To date, viable MAP has been cultured from raw cows’, sheep and goats’ milk, retail pasteurized cows’ milk, and some retail cheeses in several countries during recent studies. MAP has not been isolated from retail beef to date, although limited testing has been carried out. The public health consequences, if any, of low numbers of viable MAP being periodically consumed by susceptible individuals are uncertain. An association between MAP and Crohn's disease is not proven, but neither can it be discounted on the basis of current evidence. A precautionary approach is therefore warranted in relation to the existence of MAP in food, and action is needed to reduce the prevalence of Johne's disease in the cattle population worldwide, in order to minimize public exposure to this potential human pathogen.