Bacteria found in fresh vegetables causing recall

Published 12:44 pm Wednesday, September 20, 2006

By Staff
Carolyn Bivins – Extension agent
I found this article both informative and interesting because it shares the views of two of my colleagues in the food safety profession who live in South West Alabama.
The latest outbreak of E.coli O157:H7 in seemingly the most unlikely of places -- bagged spinach -- again underscores the fact that the deadly pathogen can turn up virtually anywhere.
The recent outbreak in ten states has been linked to one death and at least 49 illnesses. According to federal health officials, the death occurred in Wisconsin, with outbreaks also in Connecticut, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Ohio and Kentucky.
Federal officials are not certain of the source of the outbreak. Until the source is ascertained, they are advising people throughout the nation to avoid purchasing bagged spinach products.
At Auburn University, Dr. Jean Weese, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food scientist and professor of nutrition and food science, says the outbreak once again drives home the fact, however unsettling, that E.coli can strike under a variety of guises besides undercooked ground beef.
Even if these problems were eliminated, the potential for contamination still exists further along the food chain, explains Amelia McGrew, a regional Extension agent specializing in food safety. One common source of outbreak is cross-contamination at the processing plant, she says. Exposure occurs when the product - possibly raw spinach in this case - comes in contact with unwashed hands or poorly sanitized equipment.
Restaurants are not immune either. Much like processing plants, they have rules for food handlers that are sometimes ignored. Consequently, an element of risk will always be associated with foods, especially raw foods like spinach.
This, she says, is why consumers ultimately must take responsibility for their own safety - the reason why, for now, raw spinach is better prepared and eaten only in the home. This way, consumers can better ensure that spinach is free of the potentially fatal E.coli O157:H7 and other pathogens.
Washing is good, because a lot of bacteria can be removed by flowing water. Soaking, on the other hand, is self-defeating, because it gives the bacteria a chance to get into every nook and cranny, which makes them even harder to remove.
As an added precaution, washing produce not once but twice - washing it, letting the water drain and washing it again.
Households with children, elderly individuals or anyone who is ill should take special precautions, because all of them are more susceptible to the pathogen's effects.
That even goes for people with bad colds. Any kind of illness depresses your immune system and makes you more susceptible to any type of infection.
E.coli O157:H7 causes diarrhea, often with bloody stools. Although most healthy adults can recover completely within a week, some people can develop a form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome.
This syndrome is most likely to occur in young children and the elderly, and it can lead to serious kidney damage and even death. So be smart

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