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Novel tech to control STEC E.coli on beef

By Joe Whitworth+

02-Jan-2014

Randy Phebus provides an update on the project
Randy Phebus provides an update on the project

The potential of electrostatic spray technology to prevent shiga-toxin producing E.coli (STEC) in beef is being assessed by researchers.

Electrostatic technology puts a fog of chemical into the air that’s charged and deposited onto oppositely charged carcass surfaces

Randy Phebus, K-State professor of animal sciences and industry, gave an update on the five-year project, which is less than half way through, on the University’s radio station.

Researchers are looking at how the technology can deliver food-grade antimicrobials as a whole carcass treatment to control STEC and other meat-borne pathogens at K-State’s Biosecurity Research Institute.

“The technology works because it gives good coverage but also allows us to use chemicals that would be too expensive to use as a high-volume wash,” Phebus said.

“It also uses far less water than a wash does, which would be a huge bonus for (beef) plants in some parts of the country such as the Midwest if it’s effective.”

Industry partnerships

Phebus said scientists are working with industry production and processing partners to study the problem in real-life settings.

The $25m effort announced two years ago includes more than 50 collaborators, including 14 universities and government agencies.

Seventeen K-State scientists are working with the University of Nebraska, on a multi-pronged approach aimed at reducing the occurrence and public health risks from Shiga toxin-producing E.coli.

The researchers are studying possible interventions in live cattle, including trying to determine the prevalence of these STEC organisms prior to harvest, said Phebus.

“We’re looking at what impacts the organisms at different times of the year and in different management systems at the feedlot level.

“We completed a big project this summer that looked at fecal and hide samples and then corresponding carcass samples to try to follow the STEC contamination from the live animal through processing,” he added.

Five study objectives

Phebus, lead K-State researcher on the project, identified five objectives including improving detection capabilities, intervention techniques and quantitative microbial risk assessment.

The first objective involves improving detection capabilities because there are more than 200 strains of STEC, but the researchers are looking at eight that USDA considers adulterants in raw and ground beef.

A team is studying the biology and ecology of these organisms in the beef production environment for the second objective to answer questions such as: what makes cattle become positive for STEC and how does it get transmitted to the meat.

Phebus, who leads objective 3 directly, said it is aimed at examining intervention technologies at pre-harvest, post-harvest and consumer level to control E. coli using lactic or peracetic acid washing of carcasses.

“The issue is that we don’t know how well these technologies that the industry’s already using, work against these new strains of E. coli,” he said.

“We have a better understanding of how they work against E. coli O157:H7, another potent STEC strain that scientists have been studying for several years. Plus we’re working on developing new antimicrobial technologies.”

Quantitative microbial risk assessment is the fourth objective, according to Phebus.

This includes gathering data coming out of research efforts plus data from other studies to quantify and predict how well certain strategies work versus others.

The final objective is around informing and educating the public, including beef producers and processors, about the findings of the studies.

“A big part of our grant is to look at how we can reduce the risk of these pathogenic E. coli strains in foodservice and consumer situations. That’s where education and human behavioral interventions come in,” said Phebus.

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