E. coli are mostly harmless colonizers of the gastrointestinal tract of warm-blooded animals, including humans; certain strains, however, cause diarrheal illness. Some strains produce Shigalike toxins (SLT) or verotoxins (VT) and are classified as enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) or Shigalike toxin producing (STEC), or as verocytotoxigenic (VTEC), with E. coli O157:H7 being the predominant EHEC serotype. E. coli O157:H7 are Gram-negative, facultatively anaerobic, non-spore-forming rods that are mostly motile. They can grow at temperatures of 7 46°C (optimum 35 40°C), in water activities of > 0.95, and at pH values of 4.4 9.0 (optimum 6.0 7.0). E. coli
O157:H7 usually cause illness through fecal oral transmission or through consumption of contaminated foods, with the majority of outbreaks involving consumption of undercooked ground beef. Other foods, such as fruit juices, cantaloupe, and seed sprouts for salads, have also been associated with illness through fecal cross-contamination. Ingestion of cells (> 10 cells) is followed (3 9 days incubation) by mild or severe bloody diarrhea (hemor-rhagic colitis) and hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). E. coli O157:H7 are declared an adulterant for raw ground beef and other nonintact beef products by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA/FSIS), and are estimated to cause a total of 73,000 cases of illness in the United States each year.
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