U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 79, No. 11, 2016, Pages 1875–1883


U.S. Government Work


In the meat industry, a high-event period (HEP) is defined as a time period when beef processing establishments experience an increased occurrence of product contamination by Escherichia coli O157:H7. Our previous studies suggested that bacterial biofilm formation and sanitizer resistance might contribute to HEPs. We conducted the present study to further characterize E. coli O157:H7 strains isolated during HEPs for their potential to cause contamination and to investigate the genetic basis for their strong biofilm-forming ability and high sanitizer resistance. Our results show that, compared with the E. coli O157:H7 diversity control panel strains, the HEP strains had a significantly higher biofilm-forming ability on contact surfaces and a lower susceptibility to common sanitizers. No difference in the presence of disinfectant-resistant genes or the prevalence of antibiotic resistance was observed between the HEP and control strains. However, the HEP strains retained significantly higher copy numbers of the pO157 plasmid. A positive correlation was observed among a strain’s high plasmid copy number, strong biofilmforming ability, low sanitizer susceptibility, and high survival and recovery capability after sanitization, suggesting that these specific phenotypes could be either directly correlated to gene expression on the pO157 plasmid or indirectly regulated via chromosomal gene expression influenced by the presence of the plasmid. Our data highlight the potential risk of biofilm formation and sanitizer resistance in HEP contamination by E. coli O157:H7, and our results call for increased attention to proper and effective sanitization practices in meat processing facilities.