E. Coli: How To Protect Yourself
By Mark Rosenberg, M.D. on 08/26/2011
Recently in the news we heard of what the World Health Organization called the ‘world’s largest E.coli outbreak’ in Germany, France and other parts of Europe. The outbreak affected mostly bean and seed sprouts, lentils and adzuki beans and there were several fatalities from it.
Fortunately, that particular E.coli outbreak did not affect the United States. However, from time to time, E.coli contaminations of food do break out across the United States, particularly in the warmer weather months. In fact, just a couple of months ago there was an outbreak of E.coli in hazelnuts that spread across 3 states!
The truth is, you have to be very careful with the hygiene of your food. Many of my patients who have heard the news of these outbreaks have asked me how they could protect themselves against a possible E.coli contamination of their food. It’s not difficult and really only takes a little extra effort on your part to make sure you don’t become ill from possible E.coli contaminated foods.
Protecting Yourself From E.Coli
E.coli contaminations occur when food comes in contact with feces, either animal or human, somehow. Most often, people associate E.coli contaminations with meat but other foods, like all types of produce, can also become contaminated by exposure to feces somewhere along the processing route. As I tell my patients, learning how to properly store and cook your food is the best hedge against possible unknown E.coli contamination of your food.
Here is my advice:
• Cook At Proper Heat: Cooking meats, poultry and fish to the proper temperature will kill any possible E.coli bacteria that may be present. Cook all red meat to a temperature of 160 degrees (need a food thermometer). Cook all white meat (poultry like chicken, turkey) and fish to 180 degrees. Watch for undercooked meats in restaurants, be wary ordering rare meats.
• Buy Them Last: When grocery shopping, buy your meat, fish and poultry last. Don’t put it in your cart and walk around the store while browsing other items to buy. This gives your meat a chance to thaw and bacteria to grow before you leave the store.
• Thaw Them Carefully: Do not try to thaw meats at room temperature quickly, especially in warm weather. Let them thaw slowly in the refrigerator on the higher shelves. Or, you can thaw quickly in a microwave if you are going to cook it immediately.
• Keep it Cool: Similarly, if you have a long trip home from the grocery store and it’s a warm day, you might want to consider having a small portable cooler set up in the backseat or trunk with ice in it where you can put your meat and poultry to keep it frozen on the way home. Also, turn your AC up a little cooler for the ride home.
• Food storage: Make sure your refrigerator/freezer is cold enough. Measure the temperature to be sure your refrigerator is 41 degrees as E.coli (and other bacteria) can start growing at 45 degrees. If you plan on eating your meat or poultry later that day or the next morning, be sure to store it on the lower shelves of your refrigerator where it is colder.
• Keep Counters Clean: When preparing meat, poultry on your countertop, be sure to wipe your counter clean with a disinfectant wipe and then rinse and let it air dry before preparing raw meat on it. Or, use a large, clean cookie sheet to prepare meat.
• Clean Your Produce: Be sure to use a vegetable scrubber and/or produce wash to get rid of any bacterial remnant that may have gotten on produce during processing and/or shipping. You can make your own produce wash by using equal parts clean water and white vinegar, enough to cover your produce completely, and place your fruits and vegetables in the solution for 15 minutes. Scrub the skins of the produce (this is not possible to do with lettuce, and other leafy produce) with a scrubber. Be sure to rinse the produce well before preparing.
• Watch Raw Foods: Although many people like to eat their produce raw to retain more vitamin content, this can add to the risk of a possible bacterial contamination. Steaming at a high temperature can help to kill bacteria and not lessen vitamin content.
• Wash your hands: Simply washing your own hands with hot water and an antibacterial soap will prevent you from possibly transferring E.coli bacteria to your food.
E. Coli Contamination Symptoms
Now that we’ve talked about how to protect yourself from an E.coli contamination of your food, you need to know the symptoms of E.coli contamination.
Children, and possibly very elderly people, are more likely to get an E.coli infection simply because of difficulty enforcing hygiene especially after toileting. However, anyone, of any age, can get an E.coli infection.
Below are some common symptoms:
• Stomach cramps and pain.
• Diarrhea – could start off watery and then become very bloody.
E. coli contamination symptoms usually rid themselves from the body within a few days to a week by drinking plenty of fluids and staying away from heavy foods. However, complications can arise from blood loss and/or dehydration such as kidney damage.
Please seek medical attention if your diarrhea/vomiting symptoms are severe and you feel weak, have heart palpitations and do not show signs of improvement after 3 days.