ABSTRACT

Escherichia coli is a ubiquitous organism capable of forming a biofilm. This is an important virulence factor and is critical in certain diseases and in the development of antibiotic resistance, which is increased by biofilm synthesis. In the present study, the potential health risk associated with handling and consumption of foods of animal origin contaminated with E. coli–producing biofilm was evaluated. We analyzed the ability of 182 E. coli strains isolated from pork, poultry, and beef, purchased in three different supermarkets in the area of the “Italian Food Valley” (Parma, northern Italy), to form biofilms. Positive strains were also tested for the presence of 12 biofilm-associated genes. Moreover, the 182 E. coli were characterized for antibiotic resistance, presence of multidrug resistance, extended-spectrum β-lactamase strains, and phylogenetic diversity through PCR. Twenty-five percent of the isolates produced biofilm. The majority showed weak adherence, five were moderate, and three were strong producers. E. coli with a strong adherence capability (three of three) harbored eight biofilm-associated genes, while weak and moderate producers harbored only five (frequencies ranging from 80 to 100%). Multidrug resistance was observed in 20 biofilm-producing E. coli, and 15 of these belonged to phylogenetic group D. Among nonbiofilm producers, the percentage of strains belonging to phylogenetic groups B2 and D was approximately 40%, highlighting a potential health risk for consumers and people handling contaminated products. The present study underlines the importance of monitoring the prevalence and characteristics of E. coli contaminating retail meat in relation to the potential virulence highlighted here.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • Approximately 25% of E. coli isolated from meat products produced biofilm.

  • The majority of E. coli positive for biofilm were weak producers.

  • Strong biofilm producers harbored 8 of 12 of the associated genes.

  • MDR was highlighted in 43.5% of the biofilm-producing E. coli strains.

  • Nearly 40% of E. coli isolated from meat belonged to a potentially pathogenic group.

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