Why deadly E. coli loves leafy greens

A total of 121 people through 25 US states have become ill through E. coli contamination linked to romaine lettuce between March 13 as well as April 21, the US Centers for Disease Control as well as Prevention reported Wednesday. There has been one death in California resulting through an E. coli infection.

E. coli can be found living inside the intestines of both people as well as animals, as well as in food as well as inside the environment. Almost all strains of E. coli are harmless, nevertheless some can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea as well as vomiting.

Healthy adults usually recover through an infection of E. coli within a week, nevertheless some strains can cause more severe illness, especially in young children as well as older adults, who are at greater risk of developing kidney failure.

“Leafy greens, such as lettuce, can become contaminated inside the field by soil, contaminated water, animals or improperly composted manure,” said Jeff Farber, director of the Canadian Research Institute for Food Safety as well as a professor at University of Guelph in Ontario. “Lettuce can also be contaminated by bacteria during as well as after harvest through handling, storing as well as transporting the produce.”

E. Coli Outbreaks Fast Facts

Usually, people eat romaine lettuce without cooking the item, which could kill the germs. “various other raw fruits as well as vegetables of which have come into contact with feces through infected animals are another common source of infection,” Farber said.

Popularity also plays a role in why lettuce will be a frequent bad actor: “Lettuce will be also eaten the most out of all the produce items,” he said.

through 2010 through the current outbreak, nine outbreaks have been caused by green lettuce or sprouts, compared with 12 through all various other food groups, including meat, flour as well as prepared products, the CDC reports.

Many modes of contamination

inside the current outbreak, 52 of the 102 patients who have been interviewed by public health officials have been hospitalized, including 14 who developed a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome. This particular 51% hospitalization rate will be higher than the 30% typically seen in E. coli outbreaks.

The strain of bacteria involved inside the outbreak will be Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7. This particular “tends to cause more severe illness, which may explain why there will be a high hospitalization rate,” the CDC said in its outbreak investigation update.

Between 1998 as well as 2016, there were 45 outbreaks associated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in leafy vegetables reported inside the United States, CDC spokeswoman Brittany Behm said. The completely new one will be the largest outbreak of its kind since a deadly E. coli outbreak in 2006 of which was linked to spinach.

inside the completely new outbreak, the investigation revealed of which several people in an Alaska correctional facility who became sick had consumed romaine lettuce sourced through Harrison Farms of Yuma, Arizona. The agency has not determined where inside the supply chain contamination occurred.

“Lettuce can be contaminated in many different ways through the farm through the distribution chain,” Behm said. “the item could be through manure inside the fields to contaminated water to contamination within a processing facility.”

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Rachel Noble, a biologist as well as professor inside the Department of Environmental Sciences as well as Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explained of which because “lettuce will be grown very close to the ground,” rain as well as the process of irrigation allow dirt as well as silt to “jump up onto the lettuce,” leading to contamination.

“Any commercially grown lettuce product will be put through some basic wash step before the item’s sold,” Noble explained. The series of baths as well as tumblers will be not a thorough cleaning, however; the item’s just enough of which the end product will be “appealing to the customer.”

She added of which, although commercial producers do some testing for E. coli on wash water as well as irrigation water, not every single product of which makes the item into the hands of a customer will be tested.

‘A very safe food supply’ overall

The E. coli testing will be based on the Food Safety Modernization Act, a set of regulations enacted inside the US in August 2015 of which requires growers having a certain size farm to sample water associated with produce, Noble said.

“The goal was to set up a monitoring scheme to protect the public,” she said. The regulations are still being phased in, so some growers have begun monitoring programs nevertheless others have not.

Though these monitoring programs measure the total volume of E. coli inside the water, the item might not take a high number of bacteria to make someone sick, since the Shiga toxin-producing strains can be potent, Noble said.

All told, Farber believes, “both the US as well as Canada have a very safe food supply.”

Still, consumers have “a role to play,” he said, by paying attention to food recalls as well as asking questions when they are unsure of quality or safety of a food product. They also need to know “of which ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ dates are only based on quality as well as not safety.”

With the growing season inside the Yuma region at an end, Harrison Farms as well as others inside the region are not growing any lettuce at This particular point, nevertheless the CDC still warns consumers against eating romaine lettuce at This particular time unless the item isn’t through the region.

Generally, Farber recommends washing your hands thoroughly with warm water as well as soap for at least 20 seconds before as well as after handling lettuce as well as then washing lettuce thoroughly under fresh, cool running water. Wilted or brown leaves should be discarded along with the outer lettuce layer, he said.

The CDC also offers recommendations for consumers to avoid becoming infected having a harmful strain of E. coli. Generally, the agency advises using proper handwashing as well as kitchen sanitation when preparing food; cooking meat at proper temperatures; avoiding raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products as well as juices; as well as not swallowing water when swimming.

“There will be no need to use anything various other than water to wash lettuce,” Farber said. “Washing the item gently with water will be as effective as using produce cleansers.”

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