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The prevalence, counts, and characteristics of Escherichia coli isolated from bulk milk, composite milk, and feces of dairy cows in eight milking centers were determined. The microbial quality of water used during milking was also investigated. Of a total of 175 bulk milk samples
studied, 83 (47.4%) contained E. coli compared to only 14 (4.9%) of 287 composite milk samples and the difference was statistically significant (P ≤ 0.001; χ2). The ranges in mean counts of E. coli per milliliter of bulk milk and composite milk
were 8.4 × 103 to 2.0 × 105 and 2.1 × 101 to 2.0 × 102, respectively. The prevalences and mean counts of E. coli and mean pH values for bulk milk from farms with and without subclinically mastitic cows were not significantly
different (P ≥ 0.05; χ2). A total of 204 (65.2%) of 313 fecal samples of dairy cows were positive for E. coli. Of the samples of water used during milking collected from 171 dairy farms, 80 (46.8%) were free of coliforms while 59 (34.5%), 12 (7.0%), and
8 (4.7%) had ranges of coliform counts per 100 ml of 1 to 50, 51 to 100, and over 250, respectively. Twenty-six (27.7%) and 17 (18.5%) of 94 strains of E. coli isolated from bulk milk were enteropathogenic E. coli (EPEC) and verocytotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) strains, respectively.
Compared with 204 fecal strains of E. coli, 16 (7.8%) and 68 (35.6%) were EPEC and VTEC strains, respectively, and the differences were statistically significant (P ≤ 0.01; χ2). Similarly, the difference in prevalence of resistance to one or more of nine
antimicrobial agents between bulk milk isolates (69.6%) and fecal isolates (25.9%) was statistically significant (P ≤ 0.001; χ2), and resistance to ampicillin was the most prevalent type of resistance for strains of E. coli from bulk milk isolates. It
was concluded that the relatively high counts of toxigenic E. coli in bulk milk originating from dairy farms in Trinidad could pose a health risk to consumers. The poor microbial quality of water used on farms may be an important source of contamination of milk.
School of Veterinary Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad 2:
Veterinary Public Health Unit, Ministry of Health, Port of Spain, Trinidad
Publication date: October 1, 1997
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