A large number of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) strains have caused major outbreaks and sporadic cases of human illnesses, including mild diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, hemorrhagic colitis, and the life-threatening hemolytic uremic syndrome. These illnesses have been traced to both O157 and non-O157 STEC. In a large number of STEC-associated outbreaks, the infections were attributed to consumption of ground beef or other beef products contaminated with cattle feces. Thus, beef cattle are considered reservoirs of STEC and can pose significant health risks to humans. The global nature of the human food supply suggests that safety concerns with beef will continue and the challenges facing the beef industry will increase at the production and processing levels. To be prepared to address these concerns and challenges, it is critical to assess the role of beef cattle in human STEC infections. In this review, published reports on STEC in beef cattle were evaluated to achieve the following specific objectives: (i) assess the prevalence of STEC in beef cattle, and (ii) determine the potential health risks of STEC strains from beef cattle. The latter objective is critically important because many beef STEC isolates are highly virulent. Global testing of beef cattle feces revealed wide ranges of prevalence rates for O157 STEC (i.e., 0.2 to 27.8%) and non-O157 STEC (i.e., 2.1 to 70.1%). Of the 261 STEC serotypes found in beef cattle, 44 cause hemolytic uremic syndrome and 37 cause other illnesses.
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