The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Scotland has published a report identifying knowledge gaps and future research areas on a group of E.coli.
Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli (EHEC) are a group of E.coli that include verocytotoxin-producing serotypes such as E.coli O157, O26 and O104.
A total of 28 different organisations attended a workshop, including Kraft Foods, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the US Department of Agriculture.
Reduce human impact
The purpose was to improve knowledge and develop strategies for tackling the problem at its source, therefore reducing the health impact on humans.
The organisations said more work was needed to understand what proportion of human infections arise from vegetables, meat, direct contact etc. in the UK.
EHEC O157 is the most common EHEC serotype associated with human infections in both the UK and North/South America but the number of cases is low considering its prevalence, said the report.
The workshop was held in response to a recommendation resulting from the public inquiry into the foodborne outbreak of E.coli O157 in South Wales in 2005.
The report said any widespread application of intervention strategies must take account of proper cost-benefit evaluation and listed the following statements and research gaps that need to be addressed:
- A better understanding of the biology of host-bacteria interactions, and the relationship between cattle, the environment and human infection rates.
- How effective an intervention needs to be to have a useful impact on human infection rates.
- More research is needed on potential interventions; including if/how they may be combined to achieve an holistic approach and their durability over time.
The report warned that unless market signals and/or regulatory penalties exist to provide an incentive for any intervention strategy, any such uptake would likely be poor or sporadic.
The workshop also questioned what level of efficacy from an intervention is required to have a worthwhile impact on the number of human cases.
It suggested more research to help tackle EHEC at the main source of infection, the cattle gut, and on factors leading to the transmission and maintenance of infection in cattle.
Overall it was evident that there was a clear majority in favour of further research on intervention measures, the report concluded.