Antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli (ABREC) and extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli (ExPEC) are significant health threats and may be transmitted through the food supply. However, little is known regarding the prevalence or distribution of ABREC or ExPEC in retail foods. We will conduct a 2-year prospective microbiological survey of diverse food items from diverse retail markets to determine<ol> <li>Whether the commercial food supply constitutes a significant reservoir of ABREC and ExPEC for potential acquisition by humans and their household pets;
<li>Which types of foods and stores are associated with the highest prevalence and concentration of such organisms;
<li>Whether the prevalence ofABREC or ExPEC in retail foods varies according to season or increases over time; and
<li>What proportion of food-borne ABREC strains exhibit multiple or transferable antimicrobial resistance. </ol>
Retail foods will be selectively cultured to isolate and enumerate total E. coli and ABREC. ABREC and ExPEC will be detected and extensively characterized using state-of-the-art methods. Statistical analyses will be performed by an experienced statistician with input from a public health epidemiologist. The project will (a) identify sources and reservoirs of pathogenic organisms in food, and (b) determine the levels of microbial contamination in finished food products. This will allow consumers to modify their shopping or food preparation practices, and will identify for producers and the food safety community specific foods or types of markets deserving of further investigation, regulation, and/or modifications in food production and handling practices.