Shiga toxin–producing Escherichia coli (STEC) is increasingly recognized as a common cause of diarrhea. STEC infection is a major public health threat because of its ability to cause serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. The main reservoirs of STEC are believed to be the intestinal tracts of animals. Several studies have investigated the prevalence of STEC in various food items. The objective of this study was to determine the prevalence of STEC in the Seattle ground beef supply. In addition, the relative amount of STEC contamination between stores was compared, and possible differences between types of ground beef based on fat content (9, 16, and 23%) were investigated. A survey of Stx-I and/or Stx-II genes in fecal samples from cattle at a local slaughter house was also conducted. Of 296 ground beef samples tested from area retail grocery stores, 16.8% were positive for the presence of the toxin genes. Our data showed that there was no statistically significant difference (P > 0.05) in the prevalence of STEC between the ground beef samples of different fat contents and between grocery store chains. Of the 103 cattle fecal samples tested, 19 (18.4%) were found positive for the presence of Stx-I and/or Stx-II genes. The presence of a rather high percentage of STEC in the food supply in the absence of large number of cases suggests that not all STEC lineages are pathogenic for humans.

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