Background. Extraintestinal Escherichia coli infections are associated with specialized extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC) strains and, increasingly, with antimicrobial resistance. The food supply may disseminate ExPEC and antimicrobial-resistant E. coli. Methods. In a prospective survey of 1648 diverse food items from 10 retail markets in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area during 2001-2003, selective cultures and disk-diffusion assays for the isolation and characterization of antimicrobial-resistant E. coli and polymerase chain reaction-based assays and O serotyping to define ExPEC-associated traits were performed. Results. E. coli contamination exhibited a prevalence gradient from miscellaneous foods (9%), through beef or pork (69%), to poultry (92%; P<.001). Among E. coli-positive samples, similar prevalence gradients were detected for antimicrobial resistance (27%, 85%, and 94% of samples, respectively; P<.001 ) and ExPEC contamination (4%, 19%, and 46%, respectively; P<.001). By multivariate analysis, beef or pork and poultry from natural-food stores exhibited reduced risks of E. coli contamination and antimicrobial resistance. Indirect evidence suggested on-farm selection of resistance. Four food-source ExPEC isolates (from pea pods, turkey parts, ground pork, and vegetable dip) closely resembled selected human clinical isolates by O antigen and genomic profile. Conclusions. Retail foods may be an important vehicle for community-wide dissemination of antimicrobial-resistant E. coli and ExPEC, which may represent a newly recognized group of medically significant foodborne pathogens.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Financial support: Office of Research and Development, Medical Research Service, Department of Veterans Affairs (to J.R.J.); National Research Initiative (Competitive Grants Program/United States Department of Agriculture grant 00-35212-9408 to J.R.J. and S.T.).