UNL leads study to prevent contamination in beef

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and 10 other institutions have begun a project to study toxic bacteria in beef using a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The five-year project will focus on learning how infections of certain strains of E. coli could develop in cattle and could help improve detection methods and risk management.

A research team of 49 scientists will study a Shiga toxin-producing strain of E. coli, project leader Rod Moxley, a veterinarian and UNL pathologist, told the Lincoln Journal Star (http://bit.ly/Pu0WWf ).

Bean sprouts contaminated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli sickened thousands of people and caused dozens of deaths in Europe last year.

Thus far, there is no evidence that cattle carry that E. coli strain, Moxley said. But his team will look at the prevalence of the organism on ranches, in feedlots and cattle coming in to slaughter plants.

The Shiga-producing strain is "much, much more challenging" to track down than relatively well-known beef contaminant E. coli 0157:H7, Moxley said.

"These are truly emerging organisms, meaning they didn't exist before," he said. "They're ones that have acquired the capacity to cause serious illness."

The team hopes to eventually introduce strategies to prevent contamination before and after slaughter and to educate feedlot workers and others involved in food production to reduce risk.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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