ABSTRACT

Bacillus cereus is one of the important foodborne pathogens that can be found in various foodstuffs, causes diarrheal and/or emetic syndromes, and can cause severe systemic diseases that may lead to death. This study was conducted to evaluate the prevalence, antimicrobial susceptibility profile, pathogenic potential, and genotypic diversity of B. cereus isolates recovered from diverse food products collected from markets in Cairo, Egypt. Of 165 food samples investigated in this study, 39 (24%) were positive for B. cereus, with contamination levels of 2 to 6 log CFU/g or mL and a higher prevalence of levels >3 log CFU. Antimicrobial susceptibility testing revealed that the B. cereus isolates were fully sensitive to all tested antimicrobial agents except β-lactams. The pathogenic potential of the 39 B. cereus isolates was assessed by detecting and profiling genes encoding virulence factors or toxins: the chromosomal genes hblA, bceT, plc, sph, nheA, entFM, and cytK associated with the diarrheal syndrome and the plasmid ces gene associated with the emetic syndrome. The most frequently detected genes were hblA, nheA, and entFM. All isolates harbored more than one of the diarrheal enterotoxin genes, and the genetic profile hblA-bceT-nheA-entFM-cytK-plc-sph was the most prevalent (20 of 39 isolates). The emetic toxin gene ces was not detected in any isolate. Enterobacterial repetitive intergenic consensus analysis of the 20 B. cereus isolates harboring the most prevalent genetic profile revealed that these isolates were genetically distinct, with a Simpson index of diversity value of 0.989. These findings provide useful information for public health management and serve as a warning of the potential risk of diarrheagenic B. cereus in diverse food products. Therefore, extensive study of the epidemiology of this food pathogen in Egypt is warranted. Strict procedures should be developed to monitor, protect, and safely handle food products, particularly ready-to-eat foodstuffs that are usually consumed without heat treatment.

HIGHLIGHTS
  • The contamination level of B. cereus in food products was 2 to 6 log CFU/g or mL.

  • B. cereus isolates were fully sensitive to all tested antimicrobial agents except β-lactams.

  • The risk of potential diarrheagenic B. cereus in diverse food products in Egypt is high.

  • Strict procedures are needed for safe handling of foods, especially ready-to-eat products.

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