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Evaluation of real time PCR assays for the detection and enumeration of enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli directly from cattle feces

Brandon E. Luedtke, James L. Bono, Joseph M. Bosilevac
Journal of Microbiological Methods 2014 v.105 pp. 72-79
Food Safety and Inspection Service, Shiga-like toxin 1, Shiga-like toxin 2, bacterial contamination, beef, beef cattle, detection limit, enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, feces, food contamination, genes, intimin, microbial detection, pathogens, plasmids, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, raw meat, serotypes, virulence
Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli are a growing concern in the area of food safety, and the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service has identified the serotypes O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, O145, and O157 as adulterants in certain types of raw beef. The most relevant to human disease are the enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) strains that possess intimin (eae), Shiga toxin 1 and/or 2 (stx1–2), and in most cases the conserved pO157 or pO157 like virulence plasmid. Contamination of raw beef with EHEC is likely to occur via the transfer of cattle feces on hides to the carcass. To detect EHEC directly from cattle feces, we evaluated the utility of a multiplex real time PCR assay that targets the EHEC associated gene target ecf1 in combination with eae and stx1–2. Our assay had an increased sensitivity and provided a reliable limit of detection (LOD) of 1.25× 10**3 colony-forming units permL(CFUs/mL) in an EHEC spiked fecal background. In addition, we evaluated the use of a duplex qPCR assay using ecf1 for the enumeration of total EHEC directly from cattle feces. The reliable limit of quantification (LOQ)was determined to be 1.25 × 10**3 CFUs/mL. Our assay requires minimal sample processing and provides LOD and LOQ of EHEC directly from cattle feces that are the lowest reported. The application of this assay towards the identification of cattle shedding EHEC at a level above 1.25× 10**3 CFUs/mL could be a first line of defense in identifying cattle shedding these pathogens.