Survival of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli in various wild animal feces that may contaminate produce.
Domestic and wild animal intrusions are identified as a food safety risk during fresh produce production. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the survival of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) in cattle, feral pig, waterfowl, deer, and raccoon feces from sources in California, Delaware, Florida, and Ohio. Fecal samples were inoculated with a cocktail of rifampin-resistant STEC serotypes (O103, O104, O111, O145, and O157) (104 to 106 CFU/g of feces). Inoculated feces were held at ambient temperature. Populations of surviving cells were monitored throughout 1 year (364 days), with viable populations being enumerated by spread plating and enrichment when the bacteria were no longer detected by plating. Representative colonies were collected at various time intervals based on availability from different locations to determine the persistence of surviving STEC serotypes. Over the 364-day storage period, similar survival trends were observed for each type of animal feces from all states except for cattle and deer feces from Ohio. STEC populations remained the highest in cattle and deer feces from all states between days 28 and 364, except for those from Ohio. Feral pig, waterfowl, and raccoon feces had populations of STEC of <1.0 log CFU/g starting from day 112 in feces from all states. E. coli O103 and O104 were the predominant serotypes throughout the entire storage period in feces from all animals and from all states. The survival of both O157 and non-O157 STEC strains in domesticated and wild animal feces indicates a potential risk of contamination from animal intrusion.