E. coli O26 increasingly identified in food recalls

November 02, 2016

E. coli

When it comes to E. coli, most people are familiar with Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) O157:H7, also known as simply, E. coli O157:H7. This strain of E. coli has most commonly shown up in food recalls and is known for its severe consequences once contracted through contaminated food or water.

Recently, however, another strain of E. coli, known as E. coli O26, has stolen the spotlight as the culprit in recent recalls of various meat products — including high profile cases involving a well-known Mexican food chain and a well-known flour producer.

Although less known compared to other strains of E. coli, E. coli O26 is one of the six most common strains of non-O157 E. coli. Because it is difficult to identify, many clinical laboratories do not test for E. coli O26, however, people can still become ill from ingesting the bacteria.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), more than 2,100 pounds of boneless beef trim was recalled for E. coli O26 and less than a month later, another company recalled more than 2,349 pounds of beef and veal products for the same reason.

Looking back even further, a recent article provides a five year history of how E. coli O26 has laid down tracks in the U.S. Other notable cases involved a popular sandwich chain and raw clover sprouts, which were later discovered to be contaminated with E. coli O26 and were responsible for making at least 29 individuals sick throughout several states. An outbreak of E. coli O26 also occurred in June 2011 among kitchen workers at a summer camp and at various daycare and childcare programs throughout Washington State in 2010.

Most people infected with STEC O26 develop diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Some illnesses last longer and can be more severe, but most people recover within a week. Some cases, however, can lead to the development of a more severe infection, known as hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS.

HUS can occur in people of any age but is most common in children under five-years-old, older adults or individuals with weakened immune systems. It is marked by easy bruising, pallor, and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately.

Public health officials advise consumers to safely cook ground beef to a temperature of 160°F. The only way to confirm that ground beef is cooked to a temperature high enough to kill harmful bacteria is to use a food thermometer that measures internal temperature.

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NeoSeek's breakthrough STEC confirmation technology provides next-day, DNA-specific test results for pathogenic STEC E. coli strains. Results are provided from enriched samples through our GeneSeek laboratory from an enrichment culture for seven STEC E. coli strains — O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, O145, and O157.

NeoSeek uses mass spectrometry-based multiplexing to develop a "DNA bar code" for STECs, and then compares those results with the known genetic makeup of the reference E. coli strains to identify and differentiate STECs from generic E. coli. NeoSeek provides confirmation directly from an enrichment broth, avoiding colony isolation by phenotype.

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Category: Food Safety, Food & Beverage, Pathogens, Bacterial Sequencing, Environmental Monitoring