Smorgasbord Health Column #FoodSafety – Escherichia Coli 0157:H7 (E.Coli) – Strong toxin in raw meat and uncooked food by Sally Cronin


Escherichia Coli 0157:H7 (E.Coli) – Strong toxin in raw meat and uncooked food

Escherichia Coli is a group of bacteria that normally live in healthy humans and animals. Like any population there are dissidents and in the E.Coli family this particular strain produces a very powerful toxin that leads to severe gastric illness and in some cases has proved fatal. The numbers 0157:H7 distinguish this strain from the other E. Coli bacteria and refer to specific markers on its surface. As this June 2019 report from CNN shows, there are over 95,000 E.Coli 0157:H7 infections reported annually.

“Some kinds of E. coli cause disease by producing Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called “Shiga toxin-producing” E. coli (STEC). The most commonly found STEC in the United States is E. coli O157:H7.

The symptoms of STEC infections can include stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Some infections are mild, but others can be life-threatening. 

The CDC estimates that 265,000 STEC infections occur each year in the United States. E. coli O157:H7 causes more than 36% of these infections

Most infections are the result of eating undercooked, contaminated minced beef, and drinking raw milk. There are some cases of person to person infection in families, in childcare centres, schools and also in people who have swum or drank sewage-contaminated water.

The symptoms are very painful and distressing with diarrhoea and abdominal cramps and on occasion a slight fever. Most patients recover in 5 to 10 days. In very young children or the elderly the resulting infection can cause a complication called haemolytic uremic syndrome in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. Children are the most likely to pass the infection on, as they do not unless reminded tend to wash their hands regularly. This is why childcare centres and schools are potential hot spots for the infection.

How does the bacteria get into our food?

Unless you buy your minced beef directly from the farmer, there is no way that you can trace the source of your meat back to the original animal. This means that you are in the hands of the immediate supplier, which is either the supermarket or the butcher.

Ignore for the moment that you are also reliant on their hygiene protocols and that the meat may have become infected during handling. This particular strain of E.Coli can live in the intestines of healthy cows. Meat can become contaminated by contact with the intestines during slaughter and bacteria can be mixed into beef when it is minced. Not forgetting that hamburger meat is not necessarily made from pure steak and is usually mixed with any other part of the animal including its organs. Contaminated meat does not smell and there is no way to tell if it is dangerous to eat or not.

Cows may also contaminate their udders or equipment in their vicinity, the bacteria is then passed to raw milk.

Vegetables such as Brussel sprouts and lettuce have been found to be infected and there are two ways this might happen. One is contamination from ground source water, which contains sewage, and from infected animals in the same area as the plants.

A recent study showed that wild rabbits are likely to be infected with E.Coli and when they are in the same vicinity as cattle, they become infected too. If the land is a recreational park for example, humans can also come into contact with ground that is contaminated by rabbit droppings and become infected with the bacteria.

How do we avoid contamination?

Never drink un-pasturised milk unless you are absolutely sure it is uncontaminated which is very difficult.

Do not raw beef particularly minced beef. If you must insist on eating Steak Tartare then take a high quality piece of prime steak and mince it yourself having carefully washed your hands or worn gloves first.

Do not eat your hamburger under cooked, the entire burger must be cooked through. If you are served a rare hamburger in a restaurant, sending it back and also ask for a fresh plate, bun and salad as that may have become infected too.

Be aware that your own hygiene and that of your children are a cause of infection. Always wash your hands before preparing food for your family and educate your children as early as possible about washing their hands after going to the toilet.

 

Always wash your cutting boards and utensils in very hot water with anti-bacterial soap and do not put cooked meats back on the plate that contained the raw meat.

Do not swim in rivers or ponds that you do not know for a fact is not contaminated with sewage and never drink water from the same source.

If you are having a picnic in the country be aware that rabbit feces are contaminated and that you need to take anti-bacterial wipes or have water and soap for washing before you eat your food.

Raw food is very nutritious, as it has lost none of the vitamins or minerals in the cooking process. However it may harbour unwanted bacteria so it is very important that you wash all fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating.

If you have pets you can contaminate their food if you do not wash your hands and they are as prone to the infection as we are.

Food is wonderful but we have to be careful about what comes as part of the package.

Bacteria are the most prolific form of life on the planet and they are all around us in the air, water, soil and consequently in the food that we eat. Simple hygiene and efficient cooking practices can prevent you and your family from suffering from most common infections.

©Sally Cronin Just Food for Health 1998 – 2019

My nutritional background

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books-and-reviews-2019/

As always delighted to get your feedback and questions. This is not intended to take the place of your doctor’s presence in your life. But, certainly in the UK, where you are allocated ten minutes for a consultation and time is of the essence; going in with some understanding of how your body works and is currently functioning can assist in making a correct diagnosis.

Some doctors believe that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. However, I believe that understanding our bodies, how it works, how we can help prevent health problems and knowing the language that doctors speak, makes a difference.  Taking responsibility for our bodies health is the first step to staying well.

Thanks for dropping in and I hope you find useful.. Sally.

 

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