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Bacteriological analysis of wheat flour associated with an outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O121

Gill, Alexander, Carrillo, Catherine, Hadley, Micaela, Kenwell, Robyn, Chui, Linda
Food microbiology 2019 v.82 pp. 474-481
Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, agar, coliform bacteria, most probable number technique, outbreak investigation, wheat flour, Canada
A 2016/2017 outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O121 in Canada, was linked to wheat flour, milled at a single facility on three consecutive days in October 2016. Most Probable Number (MPN) estimates of the concentration of STEC O121 in the recalled flour were made using the results of qualitative testing conducted during the outbreak investigation and from analysis of 5 × 2.5 g, 5 × 25 g and 5 × 100 g analytical units of the recalled flour. The STEC O121 levels were estimated at 0.15 to 0.43 MPN/100 g, with no significant difference between production days and the two MPN estimates. The microbiota of the recalled flour, and eight retail flour samples, was enumerated by aerobic colony count, MacConkey agar and E. coli/Coliform petrifilm. The composition of the microbiota to a genus level was determined by identifying individual colonies with a Bruker Biotyper. All retail flour samples were negative for STEC in 5 × 100 g analytical units. There was no evidence of higher levels of organisms associated with fecal contamination in the recalled flour. The low levels of STEC O121 in the recalled flour indicate that a robust sampling plan, with multiple analytical units for a total of several hundred grams, may be required to reliably detect STEC in flour at levels observed in this outbreak.