Sciensano & Pathogenic E. coli

Last updated on 5-9-2019 by Daisy Tysmans

Sciensano is the National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for pathogenic E. coli. We conduct research into the presence of pathogenic E. coli, primarily Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), in our food. Sciensano also coordinates continuous monitoring of STEC infections in humans. We closely observe the developments in these surveillances and develop new detection and typing methods on this basis.

NRL for pathogenic E. coli (STEC) | investigating the presence of pathogenic STEC

The NRL for pathogenic E. coli (STEC) analyses food samples, feedstuffs and animal samples as part of the official monitoring program of the AFSCA (Federal Agency for the Safety of the Food Chain) to detect the presence of STEC. In addition, we help the health inspectors of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels to ascertain the origin of food intoxications caused by STEC. In the context of outbreaks of food-related infections, we work closely together with the National Reference Center for E. coli (UZ Brussels).

The NRL for pathogenic E. coli carries out the detection of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli according to the ISO/TS13136:2012 method, under ISO17025 accreditation. Fine typing of pathogenic E. coli is based on molecular techniques, including (q)PCR methods of the virulence genes, Pulsed Field Gel Electrophoresis and Next-Generation Sequencing.

Research and innovation

The NRL STEC also works together with the European Reference Laboratory for E. coli (Istituto Superiori di Sanita, Rome, Italy) for the monitoring of trends and for the development of new detection and typing methods for pathogenic E. coli.

Sciensano is involved in several research projects on E. coli STEC (BeReady,, Metastava).

Ring tests

We also check the quality of the test methods at the laboratories recognized by the AFSCA. To this end, we organize ring tests (test in which all participating laboratories have to test the same sample or series of samples).

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