An E. coli research program that has led to improved detection methods and food safety education at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with continue.The $25 million project is investigating Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) strains that can contaminate beef. The project began in 2011.
This type of bacteria can cause serious infections, which can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) in some cases. HUS can cause kidney failure and death.
The project is in its final phase. It has also improved eradication techniques for meat-packing pants and has given scientists a better understanding of how the bacteria grows and proliferates. Dr. Rodney Moxley, a professor of veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences at the University and the project director said, “the whole goal is to reduce the occurrence and public health risks from Shiga toxin-producing strains in beef.”
Eighteen institutions have taken place in the program. They have published 77 refereed journal articles describing the findings of their research.
One study led by biological systems engineering professor Jeyam Subbiah looked at the energy and water demands for controlling pathogens in a packing plant. Another study used secret shoppers sent to 265 restaurants in seven states. That research found that restaurant servers are not giving consumers correct information about the potential dangers of undercooked hamburgers.
E. coli bacteria is found in the digestive tracts of ruminant animals. Strains that do not cause illness are also found in people. But the strains that cause serious illness can be hard to detect. The USDA regulates E. coli O157 along with six other STEC strains in beef.
Isabel Walls, national program leader for food safety with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture said, “the researcher’s findings will save lives and stop people from getting sick. And there is a substantial economic benefit, not only in reducing the cost of food borne illnesses and associated productivity losses, but the cost of food recall, lost brand reputation, and business failures.”
The latest research from this program uses genetic and immunological science to quickly detect toxic strains of E. coli in cattle and beef. Scientists hope that these tests will be commercialized by private industry.
Researchers are also working on packing-house interventions, such as organic acid sprays, high-pressure processing to kill pathogenic bacteria, and electrostatic sprays that let antimicrobials cling to meat surfaces.