I came across two articles recently that reminded me how complex the science of microbiology remains, and how this complexity continues to present challenges for the food safety industry.
The first article was oddly enough entitled, “E. coli is good for you?” and reported on a University of Colorado at Boulder study, appearing in the journal Cell, finding E. coli may produce a Q Laboratories COO David Goinscompound that helps human cells absorb iron, a mineral beneficial for humans.
Scientists determined years ago that some E. coli strains are salubrious, such as those residing in our digestive tract, and others such as O157:H7 and STECs can cause severe and possibly fatal illness in humans. In my line of work, I am used to reading articles about the latter, so a positive spin on E. coli caught me off-guard and reminded me that as much as we know about microbiology and pathogens, there is still much more we still need to discover.
A second article cited research published in the American Society for Microbiology’s journal mBio where scientists detected a strain of E. coli (ST131-H22) in nearly 80 percent of approximately 2500 pork and poultry samples pulled from grocery stores. Researchers also identified this same strain of E. coli in 72 percent of blood and urine samples drawn from people diagnosed with urinary tract infections (UTI) at a local medical center.
The lead researcher on the study, a scientist from George Washington University, believes these results should prompt a more in-depth investigation into how many UTIs are caused by this strain of foodborne E. coli. Additional studies on human blood and urine samples from UTI patients are needed to provide more conclusive information and to determine the prevalence of this pathogenic microbe.
So, despite remarkable scientific advancements over the past 100 years in foodborne pathogen detection, identification, and diagnosis, we still have much to learn about microorganisms and the potential threat to human health.