COMMENTARY | According to Reuters, 365 more cases of E.coli were reported in Germany Wednesday. That brings the total number of cases, so far, to more than 1,500. The new cases are being reported as involving a particularly serious complication of the disease called, hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects the blood and kidneys. HUS is blamed for the deaths of 16 northern Europeans, all of whom traveled through Germany.
So far, the German government still hasn’t been able to pinpoint the source of the E.coli. An alert was sent out targeting pathogens found on Spanish cucumbers, yet the Spanish government is saying that the cucumbers are not the origin of the outbreak. Spanish farmers are saying the scare is costing them almost $300 million a week, and could cause nearly 70,000 jobs to be lost.
E.coli, or, Escherichia coli,are bacterial germs that inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and other warm-blooded animals, including mammals and birds. Most E.coli bacteria is harmless, but in certain cases can cause serious illness, resulting in bloody diarrhea, and, in the most serious cases, death.
An E. coli infection can be contracted by contact with the feces of humans or animals carrying the bacteria. This happens when water or food that has been contaminated by feces is ingested.
There are many ways that the food we eat can be contaminated. Raw meat, milk, and raw fruits and vegetables are all foods that we eat everyday that have the potential for contamination. Despite the possibility of being contaminated, there are many steps we can take to ensure safe consumption of all of our favorite foods.
Raw meats cooked to 160 degrees will kill any E.coli bacteria. Also avoid ALL cross contamination when preparing raw meats. Make sure to thoroughly wash hands and all cutting surfaces, including cutting boards and counter tops. Milk can be contaminated from the udder of cows, but pasteurization (when milk is heated in order to kill microorganisms), makes it safe to drink. Raw fruits and vegetables can become contaminated when manure, especially from cattle, is used to fertilize fields. It is important to always thoroughly wash and rinse raw fruits and vegetables before eating. Also, never drink water that hasn’t been treated.
The dangers of E.coli are very real and every step must be taken to avoid, and prevent, the contamination of the foods we eat. Yet, as someone who is in the food business, I know personally the ways people who make a living from food are affected by the kind of news that is coming out of Germany this week.
From the farmers to the distributors, restaurants, delis, farmer’s markets, and grocery stores, it affects us all. When people are scared to eat certain foods, the demand goes down and business goes down. When people are scared to eat out in general for fear of someone else being in control of the food they eat, the business owners, their staff, and their partners all suffer. The public must be informed about the dangers of such diseases, but also not led by fear to avoid patronizing their favorite restaurant or grocery store.
Don’t be afraid to still eat your favorite foods or go out for dinner tonight. Just make sure that you take all the proper precautions with your food at home, and know that all of us in the food business are doing the same!