Escherichia coli O157:H7 fecal shedding in feedlot cattle is common and is a public health concern due to the risk of foodborne transmission that can result in severe, or even fatal, disease in people. Despite a large body of research, few practical and cost-effective farm-level interventions have been identified. In this study, a randomized controlled trial was conducted to assess the effect of reducing the level of water in automatically refilling water-troughs on fecal shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in feedlot cattle. Pens in a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle were randomly allocated as control (total number: 17) or intervention (total number: 18) pens. Fecal samples (2,759 in total) were collected both at baseline and three weeks after the intervention, and tested for the presence of E. coli O157:H7 using immunomagnetic bead separation and selective culture. There was a strong statistical association between sampling date and the likelihood of a fecal sample testing positive for E. coli O157:H7. Pen was also a strong predictor of fecal prevalence. Despite accounting for this high level of clustering, a statistically significant association between reduced water levels in the trough and increased prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in the feces was observed (Odds Ratio = 1.6; 95% Confidence Interval: 1.2-2.0; Likelihood Ratio Test: p = 0.02). This is the first time that such an association has been reported, and suggests that increasing water-trough levels may be effective in reducing shedding of E. coli O157:H7 in cattle feces, although further work would be needed to test this hypothesis. Controlling E. coli O157:H7 fecal shedding at the pre-harvest level may lead to a reduced burden of human foodborne illness attributed to this pathogen in beef.
Beauvais W, Gart EV, Bean M, Blanco A, Wilsey J, McWhinney K, Bryan L, Krath M, Yang CY, Manriquez Alvarez D, Paudyal S, Bryan K, Stewart S, Cook PW, Lahodny G Jr., Baumgarten K, Gautam R, Nightingale K, Lawhon SD, Pinedo P, Ivanek R. (2018). The prevalence of Escherichia coli O157:H7 fecal shedding in feedlot pens is affected by the water-to-cattle ratio: A randomized controlled trial. PloS one, 13(2)