The performance of three chromogenic agar media for detection of the “top seven” Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in beef was compared. Samples of retail ground beef were inoculated with STEC O26, O45, O103, O111, O121, O145, or O157 at geometric mean (±standard error of the mean) levels of 0, 48 (±1), 420 (±1), 4,100 (±1), or 45,000 (±1) CFU/10 g and enriched 1:10 (90 mL) in EC broth (40°C for 6 h). Following enrichment, aliquots of broth culture were treated by immunomagnetic separation with one of three pools of beads against the seven STEC serogroups: pool I, O26, O45, and O121; pool II, O103, O111, and O145; and pool III, O157. After immunomagnetic separation, 50 μL of washed bead suspensions in buffered peptone water were spiral plated onto modified Rainbow Agar O157 (mRBA), CHROMagar STEC (CS), or modified Possé differential medium (mPossé2) and incubated at 37°C for 18 h. Up to six isolated colonies were picked from each spiral plate based on expected colony phenotypes for STEC on the respective media, and isolate identity was confirmed with an 11-plex PCR assay targeting the O serogroups and virulence genes. Overall, mRBA had the highest sensitivity (99.2%), correctly detecting a significantly higher proportion of STEC serogroups than either CS (79.4%; P < 0.05) or mPossé2 (91.7%; P < 0.05). mRBA also had the highest negative predictive value (90.0%), correctly identifying a significantly higher proportion of true-negative samples compared with CS (25.7%; P < 0.05) and mPossé2 (46.2%; P < 0.05). However, mRBA also had the lowest analytical specificity of 83.2% (P < 0.05), yielding the lowest proportion of colonies tested that were STEC positive (3,548 of 4,263) compared with 97.7% (3,607 of 3,693) for mPossé2 and 98.0% (2,875 of 2,935) for CS. Reduced specificity results in more work and higher expense due to the increased number of colonies that must be tested. Further improvements in agar culture media for non-O157 STEC isolation are needed.

  • The performance of various chromogenic agars for STEC isolation was compared.

  • Modified Rainbow Agar O157 was the most sensitive but also the least specific.

  • CHROMagar STEC and modified Possé differential medium were the most specific.

  • Lower specificity suggests that more work and higher expense will be incurred.

  • Improvements in agar culture media for non-O157 STEC isolation are still needed.

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