Evidence for the benefits of food chain interventions on E. coli 0157:H7/NM prevalence in retail ground beef and human disease incidence: A success story

Frank Pollari, Tanya Christidis, Katarina D.M. Pintar, Andrea Nesbitt, Jeff Farber, Marie-Claude Lavoie, Alex Gill, Penelope Kirsch, Roger P. Johnson


OBJECTIVES: Human infection with Escherichia coli O157:H7/NM has historically been associated with consumption of undercooked ground beef. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the correlation of the decline in E. coli O157:H7/NM infections in Canada with the introduction of control efforts in ground beef by industry.

METHODS: The human incidence of E. coli O157:H7/NM, prevalence in ground beef and interventions from 1996 to 2014 were analyzed. Pathogen prevalence data were obtained from federal government and industry surveillance and inspection/compliance programs. A survey of the largest ground beef producers in Canada was conducted to identify when interventions were implemented.

RESULTS: The incidence of E. coli O157:H7/NM infections in Canada declined from ∼4 cases/100 000 to ∼1 case/100 000 from 2000 to 2010. Verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (VTEC) prevalence in ground beef sold at retail declined from about 30% around the year 2000 to <2% since 2012. Other measures of the prevalence of E. coli, VTEC, and E. coli O157:H7/NM in beef and ground beef also declined. The number and types of interventions implemented in the major beef processing establishments in Canada increased from 1996 to 2016.

CONCLUSION: The observed decline in human illnesses and pathogen levels in relation to retail meats was associated with the introduction of control efforts by industry, federal and provincial/territorial governments, and the general population. Industry-led changes in beef processing along with the introduction of food safety policies, regulations, and public education have led to improved food safety in Canada.


Escherichia coli; food safety; beef

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17269/cjph.108.5655