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Int J Food Microbiol. 1991 Apr;12(4):289-301.

Escherichia coli O157:H7 and its significance in foods.

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Department of Food Microbiology and Toxicology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.


Escherichia coli O157:H7 was conclusively identified as a pathogen in 1982 following its association with two food-related outbreaks of an unusual gastrointestinal illness. The organism is now recognized as an important cause of foodborne disease, with outbreaks reported in the U.S.A., Canada, and the United Kingdom. Illness is generally quite severe, and can include three different syndromes, i.e., hemorrhagic colitis, hemolytic uremic syndrome, and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura. Most outbreaks have been associated with eating undercooked ground beef or, less frequently, drinking raw milk. Surveys of retail raw meats and poultry revealed E. coli O157:H7 in 1.5 to 3.5% of ground beef, pork, poultry, and lamb. Dairy cattle, especially young animals, have been identified as a reservoir. The organism is typical of most E. coli, but does possess distinguishing characteristics. For example, E. coli O157:H7 does not ferment sorbitol within 24 h, does not possess beta-glucuronidase activity, and does not grow well or at all at 44-45.5 degrees C. The organism has no unusual heat resistance; heating ground beef sufficiently to kill typical strains of salmonellae will also kill E. coli O157:H7. The mechanism of pathogenicity has not been fully elucidated, but clinical isolates produce one or more verotoxins which are believed to be important virulence factors. Little is known about the significance of pre-formed verotoxins in foods. The use of proper hygienic practices in handling foods of animal origin and proper heating of such foods before consumption are important control measures for the prevention of E. coli O157:H7 infections.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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