Your Food and You: How to Avoid the E. Coli Outbreak

Bacteria Under Microscope

E. Coli has had its 15 minutes of fame now several times and is making its latest unwelcome, deadly appearance in Europe. Outbreaks of E. Coli in the food supply have been popping up steadily since 2006. Earlier in the year this strain wreaked havoc in numerous states.

The newest Escherichia Coli strain has become infamous not only for causing some 30 deaths and more than 3,000 infections across Europe, but for being a new, deadly (albeit rare) strain.

So what makes this strain any different from the others? The main scare with H4 is that it can lead to a more serious condition, hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) — or in plain English, kidney failure.

Why Should Europe’s Outbreak Matter to Us?

The scariest part of all this is that recently four cases of the new strain have been found in the U.S., meaning the strain has crossed the Atlantic to American soil via contaminated produce. After weeks of heated debate about whether vegetables or meat were the carriers of the bacteria, German authorities are now pointing the finger at contaminated bean sprouts, though many questions remain unanswered.

Origin aside, I think we can all agree that the more important point is how can you protect yourself from this new contagion. Here are some good tips to remember when handling food so as to avoid E. Coli, and many other nasty bugs.

Basic Food Safety:

  1. Make sure to properly refrigerate all produce. Try to decrease the amount of time that groceries spend between the supermarket and your home.
  2. Ensure all meat is cooked thoroughly, including seafood. It might be handy to get a food thermometer to be positive that those steaks are good to go.
  3. Wash hands thoroughly before and after handling food. This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people skip this step.
  4. Regularly cleaning your counters and refrigerator with a solution of water and bleach is a must. When you consider how many things touch your counter, you’ll see how necessary a little bleach is!
  5. It’s important to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating as well. Make sure you’re using the warmest water possible as warm water is not a bacteria’s friend.
  6. Invest in two separate cutting boards — one for your meats and another for everything else. This decreases the chances of contamination a little further.

Hopefully those simple tips will go a long way towards keeping you and your family safe and clear of the lethal new strain. You can find more tips here.

However careful you are, it might be wise to keep a close eye on your digestive health until the E. Coli crisis is resolved. Pay attention for these common symptoms of E. Coli infection, and seek medical help immediately if you experience them:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Sometimes a low-grade fever is also present

If you do experience these symptoms, keep a close eye out for more serious symptoms that come with HUS and usually develop within a week of initial E. Coli symptoms:

  • Decreased urge to urinate
  • Feeling significantly tired
  • Losing pink tone to your skin

E. Coli has come and gone through the food supply many times in the past, and often proves only a minor nuisance to its sufferers. But in order to avoid a more serious infection, make sure to follow basic food safety procedures and keep a close eye on your own health.

What are you doing to decrease the risk of E. Coli contamination?

Photo credit: EMSL

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