Week 3- Common Foodborne Diseases: E.coli

E.coli infection occurs when a person is exposed to contaminated food, beverages, water, animals or person to person contact.  The first sign of E.coli infection is sudden onset of abdominal pain and severe cramps, followed within 24-hours with diarrhea. The onset is typically three to four days after exposure to the bacteria. Most of these infections clear up on their own without treatment, but in some cases severe blood and kidney problems may occur 2 to 14 days after the onset of symptoms.  Sometimes long-term disability or death in some children and older adults may occur.  (www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/e-coli-infection-symptoms)

Causes:

  • Eating under cooked ground beef, due to when they are slaughtered and processed, E.coli bacteria in their intestines can get on the meat.  Ground beef often has bacteria spread throughout the mixture, not just on the surfaces, such as other meat where bacteria can be destroyed upon high temperature cooking.  I am sure many people remember the 1993 Jack in the Box restaurant E.coli outbreak, in the Seattle area, where 144 were hospitalized, which ground beef was the culprit.
  • Unpasteurized milk. E.coli bacteria on the cow’s udder or on milking equipment can get into the raw milk.
  • Fresh produce. Runoff from cattle farms can contaminate fields where fresh produce is grown. Spinach and lettuce are the most commonly effected.
  • Contaminated water. Human and animal feces may pollute ground and surface water, including streams, rivers, lakes and water used to irrigate crops.   Some people have been affected by swimming in pools and lakes contaminated by feces.  I remember last summer, in the news; several beaches had been closed, due to this issue.
  • Lastly, person to person contact.  This occurs especially when adults and children don’t wash their hands properly.

Prevention:

  • Practice good personal hygiene.  E.coli bacteria is very hardy (e.g., can survive on surfaces for weeks).  Washing your hands well and using sanitizers when hand washing is not available is important. Not just for our own family, but also anyone that deals with food supply chain.  Always be aware of any restaurants that have been given citations or warnings regarding unclean practices, by contacting your local health department. 
  • Avoid cross contamination when preparing and cooking foods, especially beef. Be very aware of surface contact, such as cutting boards and cooking utensils.
  • Do not allow children to share bath water with anyone that has signs of diarrhea or “stomach flu”.  Also, keep toddlers still in diapers out of pools.
  • Remember achieving a brown color when cooking hamburgers does not guarantee that E.coli bacteria are killed.  Especially patties that have been frozen.  Verify a core temperature of 160 degrees F for at least 15 seconds.
  • Avoid drinking (and even playing in) any non-chlorinated water.  An added risk is if the water is close to or downstream of any livestock.

(http://www.about-ecoli.com/ecoli_prevention)

Congress enacts statutes designed to ensure the safety of the food supply.  The principal federal agencies are; USDA, FSIS, FDA, CDC, and DHHS. (www.about-ecoli.com/ecoli_treatment)

A Picture of Cathy Laube

About Cathy Laube

Laboratory Product Manager - Supplies, Nelson-Jameson, Inc.
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