Escherichia coli O157:H7 is a pathogenic bacterium that causes acute illness in humans, but mature cattle are not affected. E. coli O157:H7 can enter the human food supply from cattle via fecal contamination of beef carcasses at slaughter. Previous attempts to correlate the incidence of E. coli O157:H7 with specific diets or feeding management practices gave few statistically significant or consistent findings. However, recent work indicates that cattle diets may be changed to decrease fermentation acid accumulation in the colon. When fermentation acids accumulate in the colon and pH decreases, the numbers of acid-resistant E. coli increase; acid-resistant E. coli are more likely to survive the gastric stomach of humans. When cattle were fed hay for a brief period (<7 d), acid-resistant E. coli numbers declined dramatically. Other workers have shown that brief periods of hay feeding can also decrease the number of cattle shedding E. coli O157:H7, and a similar trend was observed if cattle were taken off feed and exposed to simulated transport. These observations indicate that cattle feeding management practices may be manipulated to decrease the risk of foodborne illness from E. coli, but further work will be needed to confirm these effects.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We would like to acknowledge the support of the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FD-U-001576-0). JBR would like to thank Lewis Smith, ARS/USDA National Program Leader and Leon Kochian, Director of the U.S. Plant, Soil and Nutrition Laboratory for their support and encouragement. JBR is with the New York Cluster of the U. S. Dairy Forage Research Center.
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