Verotoxin-producing Escherichia coli (VTEC; also known as Shiga toxin–producing E. coli) is a significant cause of foodborne illnesses around the world. Due to the serological and genomic diversity of VTEC, methods of detection for VTEC in food samples require detection of verotoxin or its gene vt (also known as stx). The current taxonomy of vt identifies three vt1 (a, c, d) and seven vt2 (a to g) subtypes. PCR detection of vt is convenient and rapid, but protocols may not detect all currently identified variants or subtypes of vt. The Health Canada Compendium of Analytical Methods protocol for the analysis of food for VTEC is MFLP-52. MFLP-52 includes a VT Screening PCR that is used to determine the presumptive presence of VTEC by the detection of vt in food enrichments and to differentiate VTEC from other isolates. The VT Screening PCR was developed prior to the establishment of the current vt taxonomy. An evaluation of VT Screening PCR for detection of the 10 established vt subtypes was performed, and it was discovered that the method could not detect subtypes vt1d and vt2f. Additional primers and a modified protocol were developed, and the modified VT Screening PCR was tested against an inclusivity panel of 50 VTEC strains, including representatives of 10 vt subtypes, and an exclusivity panel of 30 vt-negative E. coli from various sources, to ensure specificity. The reliability of MFLP-52 with the modified VT Screening PCR was assessed by analysis of four priority food matrices (ground beef, lettuce, cheese, and apple cider) inoculated with a VTEC strain at 2 to 5 CFU/25 g. The modified VT Screening PCR was determined to be able to detect all 10 vt subtypes and reliably detect the presence of VTEC in all tested food enrichments.

  • Canadian VTEC method MFLP-52 was assessed for specificity for 10 vt subtypes.

  • MFLP-52 failed to detect subtypes vt1d and vt2f.

  • A modified PCR was developed and had 100% specificity for all 10 vt subtypes.

  • MFLP-52 with modified PCR was assessed against food samples inoculated with VTEC.

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