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J Food Prot. 2007 Oct;70(10):2426-49.

Food as a vehicle for transmission of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli.

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Center for Food Safety, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, 1109 Experiment Street, Griffin, Georgia 30223-1797, USA.


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 stx1 and stx2 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.

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