Background and Objectives: Foodborne illness is a major hindrance to health advancement around the world and has been identified as a high priority in the Qatar National Food Security Program (QNFSP) master plan. Increased risk of illnesses is worsened by the ease of travel around the world, by an increase in global food and animal commodities trade, and by continued movement of large populations across vast areas. Qatar is one of the few countries in the world where factors exacerbating the risk of foodborne diseases intersect. Although it is estimated that up to 30% of the population in industrialized countries suffer from foodborne diseases, data in Qatar are lacking. We investigated the epidemiology and ecology of four of the top ten high risk foodborne pathogens at the preharvest level in Qatar, so that cost-effective strategies can be developed to mitigate the associated risk and protect human health. The pathogens are Salmonella spp., Escherichia coli, Campylobacter spp., and Listeria monocytogenes. Methods: An epidemiological study was carried out to address the objectives. Samples and data were collected from dairy operations and processing plants. All samples were screened for these pathogens using a combination of culture enrichment and real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic approach. Molecular studies were carried out to identify toxins associated with virulence of these pathogens. Data on risk factors hypothesized to pose risks of human exposure and infection were analyzed for their significance. Results: All four pathogens were detected in samples collected from animal production units and processing plants with varying levels of occurrence. Although non-O157:H7 Shiga-toxin producing E. coli serogroups had the highest rate of occurrence (58%), E. coli O157:H7 were detected at a rate of 6%. Salmonella and Campylobacter spp. were detected at a much higher rate than expected. A higher percentage of the recovered pathogens were confirmed to have a toxin gene. Conclusions: Our data confirm the existence of a significant threat to the safety of the food supply system from these pathogens at the preharvest level. There is a need for innovative intervention strategies to mitigate risk of infection and eliminate adverse consequences.


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