SPOTLIGHT By Rodney A. Moxley, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Progress in STEC Control: The USDA-NIFA
STEC Coordinated Agricultural Project
Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains pose a major threat to public health. STEC causes an estimated 265,000 or more cases of illness in the U.S. each year. In addition to the consequences of illness, including
loss of life, these cases result in annual losses
of about $500 million to the U.S. economy.
Cattle are a major reservoir of STEC: Bacteria
colonize the intestinal tracts and are shed in the feces. Consequently, STEC infections also result from direct contact with
cattle, contamination of other sources of food (e.g., fresh produce), and other means. Worldwide, approximately half of all
STEC cases are attributable to foodborne exposure, whereas
about half of foodborne cases are attributable to beef. Globally, beef is the leading food source for STEC infection.
To respond to these issues regarding STEC in beef, the
U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food
and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) funded a
proposal by the University of Nebraska–Lin-
coln (UNL) and collaborating institutions to
develop a comprehensive research, education,
and extension program. This program, known
as the STEC Coordinated Agricultural Project
(STEC CAP), has been funded by an award
of approximately $25 million from USDA-
NIFA. The project began January 1, 2012, and will end De-
cember 31, 2019.
The STEC CAP has worked to strategically conduct re-
search and educate communities on how STEC contamina-
tion and outbreaks occur and spread throughout the beef pro-
duction/processing chain, and on how science and technology
can best be used to mitigate risks. The STEC CAP, with me at
UNL as project director, has included 53 scientists and educa-
tors at 18 institutions: UNL, Kansas State University (KSU),
of public health risk