The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

E.coli Vaccine for Cows

E.coli Vaccine for Cows

Food Safety Update

July 26, 2009

A Minnesota based veterinary pharmaceutical company has developed a vaccine to combat the evil E.coli bacteria that has been plaguing our food system. Epitopix LLC’s vaccine has proven to reduce the prevalence of cattle shedding E.coli 0157:H7 by as much as 85 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 0157 strain sickens approximately 70,000 people in the U.S. every year. This groundbreaking vaccine specifically targets the 0157 food safety demon that has appeared in tomatoes, spinach, peanuts, cookie dough, and beef, to name a few, over the past decade.

The E.coli Bacterial Extract (SRP) vaccine works by teaching the cattle’s natural immune system to recognize and fight against critical proteins found on the surface ofE.coli O157 bacteria. This significantly decreases the overall risk of E.coli 0157 contamination.

Jim Sandstrom, DVM and General Manager of Epitopix, says that historically, the USDA regulates veterinary vaccines that improve animal health. Because E.coli O157 is harmless to cattle, it required special consideration to create adequate regulatory pathways allowing approval of a “food safety vaccine.”

Now under conditional approval by the USDA, Epitopix can release the vaccine so long as potency and efficacy trials continue to meet government standards. Upon meeting these standards, the vaccine will be granted full licensure. In the interim, the company is working on costs and plans to begin inoculating beef cattle in the fall.

Michelle Rossman, Director of Beef Safety Research for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), manages the research that helps make new safety tools a reality. She says that this new vaccine could have a significant positive impact across the entire food safety system.

“This vaccine is a welcome addition to the set of technologies and systems in place today throughout the beef chain. An on-farm safety intervention is an added hurdle that will strengthen beef processing safety systems. Cattle farmers and ranchers are committed to safety and will continue investing dollars in research that advances our knowledge of safety concerns, such as E.coli O157:H7,” she says.

Perhaps most promising is the fact that E.coli is not the only pathogen vaccines could prevent in the not too far off future. Sandstrom says that, hopefully, we will see this type of therapy applied to many other food safety issues.

“Now that the USDA has accepted responsibility for bacterial organisms which may affect food safety while not causing animal disease, other pathogens may fall into this category,” he adds.

E.coli 0157 is a potentially deadly bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea, high fever, vomiting/nausea, dehydration, and in the most severe cases, kidney failure. The vaccine is promising, but food safety procedures are still important and should continue. Here are some reminders and tips to share with your consumers:

The 411 on E.coli Infection:

•    Symptoms start off mild and worsen after several days but usually clear up within 5–7 days.

•    The “incubation period,” or the time it takes after consuming the bacteria and feeling sick is usually 3-4 days but can range from 1 to 10 days.

•    If you suspect E.coli, continue to drink fluids as to prevent dehydration. Do not take antidiarrheal medicines or antibiotics as both can worsen the condition.

•    In order to track and help improve our food safety and public health system, it is important, if you suspect an E.coli infection, that you see a health care professional and are properly tested (stool sample) and diagnosed.

Food Safety & Raw Meat Handling:

•    Always cook meats thoroughly. Make sure to follow advised cooking instructions on food packages and labels. CDC recommends cooking ground meat to at least 160ºF.

•    Use separate cutting boards, knives and utensils for raw or uncooked foods. Make sure to wash countertops and hands with hot soapy water after handling raw meats.

•    Chill perishable foods promptly. Be sure your refrigerator is set at 40ºF or below and your freezer at 0ºF.

•    Always wash your hands after using the bathroom, and before preparing or eating food.