Aims: This investigation was conducted to determine the survival of a naturally occurring Escherichia coli O157:H7 in garden soil linked to a sporadic case of E. coli O157 infection in Minnesota.
Methods and results: The presence and viability of E. coli O157:H7 was monitored in manure-contaminated garden soil for several weeks. Bacterial isolates were characterized using PCR and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Isolates obtained from the patient and the garden plots during this investigation had indistinguishable PFGE patterns and had the same virulence factors (stx1, stx2, eaeA, ehxA). The E. coli O157:H7 levels obtained from the garden plots declined gradually for a period of 2 months, and on day 69 only one garden plot of four had detectable levels of pathogen. All plots were negative on day 92. The rate of decline in the soil samples stored at 4 degrees C was faster compared with soil samples that remained in ambient conditions, and in refrigerated storage E. coli O157:H7 could not be detected after 10 days.
Conclusions: E. coli O157:H7 strains can survive on manure-amended soil for more than 2 months, and this survival could be reduced by low temperature.
Significance and impact of the study: This is one of the few reports that have investigated the survival of a proven virulent strain in naturally contaminated soil samples. This case stresses the importance of avoiding the use of raw cattle manure to amend soil for cultivation of foods, including soils in residential garden plots.