What you should know about E coliYou’ve probably heard of the food poisoning known as E.coli.Beyond the fact that it can make you really sick, all consumersshould understand how this illness manifests, both to minimizeyour risk and spot the symptoms in the event of infection.
What is it?Escherichia coli (E. coli) refers to a group of bacteria thathave the potential to cause serious medical problems inhumans. Many types of E.coli produce Shiga toxin, a substancethat is extremely poisonous to humans. Shiga toxin-producingE.coli, or STEC for short, are often the culprit in massoutbreaks that can span several states and harm thousands ofpeople. A recent ground beef recall by Fairbank Farms in NewEngland illustrates the damage that these tiny bacteria can do.
What does it do?E.coli 0157 is the most commonly identified STEC in NorthAmerica, and the strain responsible for causing the most casesof severe and deadly illness. Generally, the non-0157 strainsare far less likely to cause serious problems, although there aresome types that can be fatal, as well. E.coli 0157 presents thethreat of a potentially fatal syndrome known as hemolyticuremic syndrome (HUS), a condition that can result in kidneyfailure, permanent injuries, and death.
Where it is foundBoth 0157 and non-0157 stains of E.coli bacteria are carriedand bred in the stomachs of cattle, goats, deer, sheep, elk, andother ruminant animals, and can be spread by other animalssuch as pigs and birds, too. E.coli is also found in produce, likespinach and unpasteurized fruit juices, as a result of manurefrom infected animals being used as fertilizer on farms.
What you need to watch for Symptoms of infectionStomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are some ofthe symptoms that can lead a physician to order blood andstool tests. Treatment is minimal and involves simplesupportive therapy (hydration and electrolyte balance) as thebacteria must work their way through the body. In many casesof STEC poisoning, patients will fully recover with no long-termeffects. For others, STEC infection can mean kidney failure andlifelong medical problems
What can you do to protect yourself?Be sure to wash your hands consistently after using therestroom, touching public surfaces, and coming into contactwith animals. Wash up before and after preparing food, as well.Cook meat products thoroughly to kill any bacteria present.Use a meat thermometer to ensure your food reachesrecommended safe temperatures, especially in the middle.When ordering out, ask for your meat well done.Unpasteurized milks and juices can transmit E.coli and otherbacteria, so purchase pasteurized products to reduce your risk.Wash all counter surfaces, cutting boards, and utensils beforeand after preparing food to avoid cross-contamination.Clean fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumptionusing a safe produce wash and water.
Why you should worryOn August 11 2001 a two year old boy named Kevin Kowclcykfrom Colorado died from hemolytic-uremic that developed dueto eating a hamburger contaminated with this bacteria. Thiscould happen to your kids!
Why is this happening?Factory Farming and big slaughter houses are increasing theincidents of e. coli infection. The conditions in which theanimals are kept, over crowded and standing in manure make itmuch more likely that the animals will be infected. They arealso being fed corn which encourages the growth of thebacteria in their stomach. The slaughter houses are not beingkept clean enough and the bacteria is getting in the meat. Theworkers are underpaid and overworked and there is not asufficient inspection process to be sure the meat is safe.
What can we do to change this?We can demand of our government that they encat laws toprotect us. Write to your congressman. We can make betterchoices about what companies we support with our grocerypruchases. Buy your meat from a local family farmer and yourprocuce from companies that are certified organic. We theconsumer determine how the big companies act with ourchoices when we spend our money. If we wont buy it, theywont make it!