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The dangers of E. coli

We are all aware that under cooked burgers can result in E. coli food poisoning, but outbreaks are just as common from petting farms and eating raw salads and vegetables.

A major E. coli outbreak in the US has recently claimed the life of one individual in California, with over 120 people becoming infected and seriously ill across 25 states. 14 of the 52 people who were hospitalised during this outbreak have also been diagnosed with kidney failure because of the severity of the infection.

The cause was linked to infected romaine lettuce grown on a farm in the Yuma region of Arizona, which supplies much of the US with this product. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have therefore warned against eating any romaine lettuce which was grown in this area.

The symptoms of being infected with E. coli include vomiting, diarrhoea (often turning bloody), severe stomach cramps, fever and in some cases infection of the kidneys.

E. coli is highly infectious and very few bacteria are needed to cause illness. Vegetables and fruit which encounter faeces from infected animals (natural manures) and irrigated with contaminated water, are often a widespread source of E. coli related illnesses.

This latest outbreak is yet another reminder that E. coli is a serious infection and we should take extra precautions to avoid becoming ill.

How can we protect ourselves from E. coli infection from raw fruit and vegetables?

The Food standards Agency E. coli guidance document, which can be down loaded https://www.food.gov.uk/business-guidance/e-coli-o157-cross-contamination-guidance states that to reduce the risk of E. coli from salads, vegetables and fruit it is important to:

  • Non Ready To Eat (RTE) vegetables and fruit must be handled, stored and displayed in such a way that it does not contaminate RTE foods. Special attention is required when storing vegetables grown in the ground or with soil on them
  • Remove any loose soil before storing vegetables
  • Store root vegetables below fruit
  • Thoroughly wash all salads and vegetables that will be eaten raw under a running tap and rinse them in fresh water
  • Do not rewash any RTE fruit or vegetables

These measures will reduce the risk of contamination from any E. coli contaminated vegetables, fruit and salad, but will not eliminate the risk of infection completely.

Restaurants, cafes and food service outlets must therefore safeguard consumers against possible infection. Chefs and those in charge of food preparation must ensure that all salads and vegetables are washed thoroughly to reduce the hazard of illness and to avoid a potentially life-threatening E. coli outbreak occurring.

Peter Christopher-Ohrt Managing Director of Food Alert states that “E. coli is incredibly important to control as only ten E. coli bacteria are required to make you ill.  It is very important that the guidance issued by the Food standards Agency is fully implemented within all food premises.  You can assess how you are doing by using our E. coli checklist”

E.coli checklist>