Life on the outside: Role of biofilms in environmental persistence of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli.

Vogeleer, P., Tremblay, Y.D.N., Mafu, A.A., Jacques, M., and Harel, J. (2014). "Life on the outside: Role of biofilms in environmental persistence of Shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli.", Frontiers in Microbiology, 5(July: Article number Article 317). doi : 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00317  Access to full text


Escherichia coli is a heterogeneous species that can be part of the normal flora of humans but also include strains of medical importance. Among pathogenic members, Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC) are some of the more prominent pathogenic E. coli within the public sphere. STEC disease outbreaks are typically associated with contaminated beef, contaminated drinking water, and contaminated fresh produce. These water- and food-borne pathogens usually colonize cattle asymptomatically; cows will shed STEC in their feces and the subsequent fecal contamination of the environment and processing plants is a major concern for food and public safety. This is especially important because STEC can survive for prolonged periods of time outside its host in environments such as water, produce, and farm soil. Biofilms are hypothesized to be important for survival in the environment especially on produce, in rivers, and in processing plants. Several factors involved in biofilm formation such as curli, cellulose, poly-N-acetyl glucosamine, and colanic acid are involved in plant colonization and adherence to different surfaces often found in meat processing plants. In food processing plants, contamination of beef carcasses occurs at different stages of processing and this is often caused by the formation of STEC biofilms on the surface of several pieces of equipment associated with slaughtering and processing. Biofilms protect bacteria against several challenges, including biocides used in industrial processes. STEC biofilms are less sensitive than planktonic cells to several chemical sanitizers such as quaternary ammonium compounds, peroxyacetic acid, and chlorine compounds. Increased resistance to sanitizers by STEC growing in a biofilm is likely to be a source of contamination in the processing plant. This review focuses on the role of biofilm formation by STEC as a means of persistence outside their animal host and factors associated with biofilm formation.

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