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Food as a Vehicle for Transmission of Shiga Toxin–Producing Escherichia coli

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Contaminated food continues to be the principal vehicle for transmission of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and other Shiga toxin–producing E. coli (STEC) to humans. A large number of foods, including those associated with outbreaks (alfalfa sprouts, fresh produce, beef, and unpasteurized juices), have been the focus of intensive research studies in the past few years (2003 to 2006) to assess the prevalence and identify effective intervention and inactivation treatments for these pathogens. Recent analyses of retail foods in the United States revealed E. coli O157:H7 was present in 1.5% of alfalfa sprouts and 0.17% of ground beef but not in some other foods examined. Differences in virulence patterns (presence of both stx and stx 2 genes versus one stx gene) have been observed among isolates from beef samples obtained at the processing plant compared with retail outlets. Research has continued to examine survival and growth of STEC in foods, with several models being developed to predict the behavior of the pathogen under a wide range of environmental conditions. In an effort to develop effective strategies to minimize contamination, several influential factors are being addressed, including elucidating the underlying mechanism for attachment and penetration of STEC into foods and determining the role of handling practices and processing operations on cross-contamination between foods. Reports of some alternative nonthermal processing treatments (high pressure, pulsed-electric field, ionizing radiation, UV radiation, and ultrasound) indicate potential for inactivating STEC with minimal alteration to sensory and nutrient characteristics. Antimicrobials (e.g., organic acids, oxidizing agents, cetylpyridinium chloride, bacteriocins, acidified sodium chlorite, natural extracts) have varying degrees of efficacy as preservatives or sanitizing agents on produce, meat, and unpasteurized juices. Multiple-hurdle or sequential intervention treatments have the greatest potential to minimize transmission of STEC in foods.

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: 1: Center for Food Safety and Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA 2: Center for Food Safety and Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA;, Tel: 770-228-7284, Fax: 770-229-3216, Email:

Publication date: October 1, 2007

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    The Journal of Food Protection (JFP) is a refereed monthly publication. Each issue contains scientific research and authoritative review articles reporting on a variety of topics in food science pertaining to food safety and quality. The Journal is internationally recognized as the leading publication in the field of food microbiology with a readership exceeding 11,000 scientists from 70 countries. The Journal of Food Protection is indexed in Index Medicus, Current Contents, BIOSIS, PubMed, Medline, and many others.

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