Multiparametric comparison of chromogenic-based culture methods used to assess the microbiological quality of drinking water and the mFC method combined with a molecular confirmation procedure

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MI agar and Colilert®, as well as mFC agar combined with an Escherichia coli-specific molecular assay (mFC + E. coli rtPCR), were compared in terms of their sensitivity, ease of use, time to result and affordability. The three methods yielded a positive E. coli signal for 11.5, 10.8, and 11.5% of the 968 well water samples tested, respectively. One hundred and thirty-six (136) samples gave blue colonies on mFC agar and required confirmation. E. coli-specific rtPCR showed false-positive results in 23.5% (32/136) of cases. In terms of ease of use, Colilert was the simplest method to use while the MI method provided ease of use comparable to all membrane filtration methods. However, the mFC + E. coli rtPCR assay required highly trained employees for confirmation purposes. In terms of affordability, and considering contamination rate of well water samples tested, the Colilert method and the mFC + E. coli rtPCR assay were at least five times more costly than the MI agar method. Overall, compared with the other two methods tested, the MI agar method offers the most advantages to assess drinking water quality.

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