Shigatoxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) causes severe infections, and has been the cause of a number of foodborne outbreaks. Knowledge on the survival of STEC is crucial in order to limit the risk of cross contamination and transfer of STEC to food during processing. In this study survival of STEC and non-STEC on surfaces under various humidities, temperatures and in the presence of different types of soil was investigated. A model system with controlled relative humidity and temperature was established by using saturated salt solutions. All the 12 STEC strains had a reduction in viable count during incubation at 70% RH at 12 °C. The reduction was 2-3.5 log and 4.5-5.5 log after 1 and 7 days of incubation, respectively. Surviving cells were observed after 19 days of incubation. The STEC strains were more resistant to desiccation than non-STEC strains. STEC survived better at 12 °C, compared to 20 °C. The survival of STEC was much lower than the survival of a Staphylococcus simulans strain tested, which showed less than 1 log reduction until day 7 at 70% RH at 12 °C, while several STEC strains had comparable survival to a Salmonella Agona strain. The survival of two STEC strains tested was highest at 98% RH. The lowest survival was observed at 85% RH, with better survival at drier conditions. Presence of proteins and glucose protected the cells at dry conditions. Two commercial disinfectants tested at in-use concentration had limited effect (0.8-2.5 log reduction) against STEC on stainless steel, especially for cells incubated at high relative humidity (98% RH). STEC surviving on surfaces in the food industry may impose a risk for cross contamination. Cleaning and use of suitable disinfectants will reduce the survival of STEC, but surfaces should be allowed to dry completely since humid conditions will promote the survival and growth of STEC.
- Escherichia coli