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What is E. Coli and How to Prevent It

It’s green. It’s leafy. It’s nutritious. Who knew it could be deadly? And spinach is not the only excellent food that poses risks of getting the bacteria E.coli. Prior to recent events, E.coli contamination had been found mostly in undercooked ground beef but in the past decade we have been hearing more about humans getting sick and even dying from E coli from consuming fruits and vegetables. According to the Center for Disease Control, E. Coli O157:H7 can be highly contagious with an estimated 75,000 cases and 61 deaths per year in the United States alone.

E.coli is scientifically known as Escherichia coli O157:H7. The numbers after the name specifies the type of E.coli bacterium. There are many different types of E.coli that live in healthy human and animal intestines. But, the E.coli O157:H7 strain is toxic to individuals.

E.coli O157:H7 is found in unpasteurized milk or juice, undercooked or raw meat (esp. beef), sewage-contaminated water (it can be contracted by swimming in or drinking it), and any unwashed, uncooked vegetable or fruit in which manure was used as the fertilizer (such as alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, spinach).

People infected with the bacteria will have diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps. In healthy adults that contract it, it will go away in 5 to 10 days. Antibiotic treatment may or may not be required. In young children (esp. those younger than 5 years) and the elderly, symptoms can be deadly. They get not only the diarrhea but can also get kidney failure which can lead to long-term health problems such as blindness, high blood pressure, and seizure. This kidney failure can also lead to death.

Preventing the spread of E.coli involves being diligent in cooking and cleaning. All meat (esp. beef) must be cooked thoroughly. Meat that is “done” has an internal temperature of 160 degrees in its thickest part. The reason why E.coli is found in beef is because cows-even healthy ones-can carry the bacteria in their intestines. When they are slaughtered and ground, E.coli can contaminate processing equipment and meat. Remember that contaminated E.coli meat looks and smells perfectly normal.

Fruits and vegetables need to be washed with soap and water. Although with some contaminated foods (like spinach), only completely cooking it will kill the bacteria. Be aware of how you handle your food at the grocery store. Raw meat sometimes leaks blood so keep unpackaged items like your fruits and vegetables in the plastic bags provided at the store. It’s also a excellent thought to bag them up before they take their trip down the checkout belt. Don’t forget this belt held a lot of other people’s leaky meat, too!

Don’t place cooked meat on unwashed surfaces or plates that held raw meat. After handling or containing the raw meat, it’s vital to wash hands, utensils, surfaces, plates, and containers with hot soapy water.

If you or a child have diarrhea, wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing diapers. Cleaning the bathroom and toilet with a disinfectant after the infected person has used it is a excellent thought, too.

Only drink chlorinated, disinfected water. Don’t ingest swimming pool or lake water. If you or a child has diarrhea stop the chance of spreading it by not swimming at the pool or lake or sharing baths.

Only drink pasteurized milk and juices. The pasteurization process heats the liquids enough to kill the E.coli. There have been cases where raw milk caused E.coli infections. This comes about because cows can have E.coli on their udders and transfer it to the milking equipment and into the milk.

The FDA is following and enforcing measurements to keep food safe for the public. They don’t like to see companies using manure on raw consumables. Hopefully, this will bring about change in farming practices in the USA before another E coli tale hits the news.

Although the government has guidelines for the safe farming and processing of foods, it is up to the consumer to be smart in food preparation, hygiene, and environmental awareness. Be sure to consume only pasteurized milk and juices, thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables, especially those that grow on the ground, do not consume undercooked meat and practice safe cooking habits.

Tina Seay is the author and webmaster of LearnSomethingToday.com LearnSomethingToday.com an brilliant resource site with health articles, recipes, organizing tips and so much more. She strives to help others live a better quality of life.

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