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


Date of this Version


Document Type



Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 77, No. 11, 2014, Pages 1982–1987


U.S. Government Work


In the meat industry, a ‘‘high event period’’ (HEP) is defined as a time period during which commercial meat plants experience a higher than usual rate of Escherichia coli O157:H7 contamination. Genetic analysis indicated that within a HEP, most of the E. coli O157:H7 strains belong to a singular dominant strain type. This was in disagreement with the current beef contamination model stating that contamination occurs when incoming pathogen load on animal hides, which consists of diverse strain types of E. coli O157:H7, exceeds the intervention capacity. Thus, we hypothesize that the HEP contamination may be due to certain in-plant colonized E. coli O157:H7 strains that are better able to survive sanitization through biofilm formation. To test our hypothesis, a collection of 45 E. coli O157:H7 strains isolated from HEP beef contamination incidents and a panel of 47 E. coli O157:H7 strains of diverse genetic backgrounds were compared for biofilm formation and sanitizer resistance. Biofilm formation was tested on 96-well polystyrene plates for 1 to 6 days. Biofilm cell survival and recovery growth after sanitization were compared between the two strain collections using common sanitizers, including quaternary ammonium chloride, chlorine, and sodium chlorite. No difference in ‘‘early stage’’ biofilms was observed between the two strain collections after incubation at 22 to 25˚C for 1 or 2 days. However, the HEP strains demonstrated significantly higher potency of ‘‘mature’’ biofilm formation after incubation for 4 to 6 days. Biofilms of the HEP strains also exhibited significantly stronger resistance to sanitization. These data suggest that biofilm formation and sanitization resistance could have a role in HEP beef contamination by E. coli O157:H7, which highlights the importance of proper and complete sanitization of food contact surfaces and food processing equipment in commercial meat plants.