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Int J Food Microbiol. 2015 Mar 16;197:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2014.12.019. Epub 2014 Dec 17.

Detection of shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) in leafy greens sold at local retail markets in Alexandria, Egypt.

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Department of Botany and Microbiology, Faculty of Science, Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt. Electronic address:
Department of Food Science, Faculty of Agriculture, Saba Basha, Alexandria University, Egypt.
Department of Zoology, Faculty of Science, Alexandria University, Alexandria, Egypt.


Leafy green vegetables, a popular and an indispensable ingredient of the daily menus of Egyptians' diets, currently presents a great concern in terms of microbiological hazards. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report that provides scientific evidence for prevalence of shiga-toxigenic Escherichia coli (STEC) in leafy greens sold at open air local retail markets and superstores in the Egyptian environment. A total of 486 conventional and organic leafy green samples that are eaten raw were collected from different areas in Alexandria, evaluated for total E. coli counts (ECCs), and screened for E. coli O157:H7 using conventional and molecular methods. Recovery of E. coli (≥10(2)CFU/g) from all studied types of leafy greens was indicative of fecal contamination. Total ECCs in conventional samples ranged from 5.47 to 2.56 log CFU/g. Based on their inability to ferment sorbitol on CT-SMAC media, 26 presumptive E. coli O157 isolates were detected in 71.4% (270/378) of the studied conventional samples. From all studied organic samples, only 2 types (organic cabbage and parsley, 16.7%) were contaminated with presumptive E. coli O157. All 28 isolates were further serotyped as E. coli O157 by latex agglutination test, and biochemically confirmed as E. coli. Multiplex PCR assays confirmed the ability of 21.4% (6/28) of the E. coli O157 strains to produce shiga-toxins (Stxs), and their virulence markers were as follows: stx1, 66.6% (4/6); stx2, 50% (3/6); stx1/stx2, 16.7% (1/6); eaeA, 83.3% (5/6); and hlyA, 16.7% (1/6). Only 2 strains recovered from conventional and organic parsley could possibly be classified as E. coli O157:H7 based on the presence of stx-genes (either stx1 or stx2 or both). Results of the present research highlight that high E. coli loads, together with recovery of STEC O157 isolates could pose serious health risks to the produce consumers. This emphasizes the urgent need for health authorities to value and utilize the existing knowledge to identify strategies that reduce microbiological risks due to fecal contamination of agricultural products, and implement control measures at all stages of the food chain to specifically eliminate the presence of STEC O157 on the leafy green category.


Escherichia coli O157:H7; Fecal contamination; Leafy greens; Multiplex PCR; Total E. coli count; Virulence genes

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