Why the E. coli O157:H7 Puzzle is Not Easily Solved.

October 25, 2012 :: Tim McAllister
Moderated by Graeme Greenlee

Escherichia coli, usually called E. coli, refer to a large group of bacteria that is commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals. Most strains of E. coli are harmless; however, some strains, such as E. coli O157:H7 can make people sick, causing severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and very occasionally kidney failure or even death.

Food can become contaminated with E. coli when animals are slaughtered or processed, even if precautions are taken. In processed or ground meat, the bacteria can be spread throughout the meat. Food can also be contaminated if handled by a person infected with E. coli, or from cross-contamination because of unsanitary food handling practices.

Raw fruits and vegetables as well can become contaminated with E. coli while in the field by improperly composted manure, contaminated water, wildlife or poor hygiene by farm workers. E. coli infections can also spread easily from person to person.

The speaker will explain the various myths and facts related to E. coli contamination and food safety, while being mindful of the many challenges facing food processors and inspectors working in a high volume environment.

Speaker: Dr. Tim McAllister

Dr. Tim McAllister is a Principal Research Scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at the Lethbridge Research Centre. McAllister works in multiple areas including ruminant nutrition, microbial ecology and measurement of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ruminants. His work on E. coli O157:H7 has focused on the ecology of this bacterium in cattle and their environment as well as looking at using various approaches to lower the presence of this human pathogen in the cattle host.

Work on the use of viruses (bacteriophage) that are specific for killing E. coli O157:H7 has been one of McAllister’s labs key accomplishments. His group has identified strains that are highly adept at killing E. coli O157:H7 and were the first to publish the genome sequence of a .T-5 like phage with these characteristics. His team’s most recent interest is in defining the role that “Super Shedder Cattle” play in the ecology of E. coli O157:H7 from farm to fork

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