Food Borne Illness Updates

E. coli O157:H7:

It isn’t often that public health officials can tie a food borne illness outbreak, especially one linked to E. coli O157:H7, to improper hand washing. However, it appears that this is the case with 13(+) individuals who have become ill in Green County since July. The illnesses are linked to E. coli O157:H7 spreading from person-to-person through inadequate hand washing. Cases as far back as July are linked to the outbreak. Most of the victims appear to be in kindergarten classes at an Elementary School in Monroe. While the source of the deadly bacterium has not been pinpointed, the outbreak reportedly grew larger due to improper hand washing; with the focus of new cases being the elementary school classroom. E. coli O157:H7 is a bacterium that can be carried by animals (especially cattle) and shed in fecal material, and can be found in contaminated food and water; humans who are sick can also pass the infective agent out in the stool.

Information on E. coli O157:H7 from the CDC:

The symptoms of infection with this bacterium vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 101˚F/less than 38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others are severe or even life-threatening.

Around 5–10% of those who are diagnosed with infection caused by consuming food or water contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 develop a potentially life-threatening complication known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Clues that a person is developing HUS include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems. Most persons with HUS recover within a few weeks, but some suffer permanent damage or die.

The time between ingesting the harmful bacteria and feeling sick is called the ―incubation period.‖ The incubation period is usually 3-4 days after the exposure, but may be as short as 1 day or as long as 10 days. The symptoms often begin slowly with mild belly pain or non-bloody diarrhea that worsens over several days. HUS, if it occurs, develops an average 7 days after the first symptoms, when the diarrhea is improving.

How can illness from E. coli O157:H7 be prevented?

1.WASH YOUR HANDS thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. WASH YOUR HANDS after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).

2.COOK meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F/70˚C. It’s best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of ―doneness.‖

3.AVOID raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).

4.AVOID swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard ―kiddie‖ pools.

5.PREVENT cross contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.

 

Listeria

The FDA issued preliminary finding related to the outbreak of illness linked to Rocky Ford cantaloupe from Jensen Farms in Colorado. A national outbreak of illness linked to Listeria monocytogenes has led to 29 deaths and 139 illnesses – and all reports link these illnesses to consumption of contaminated cantaloupe.

FDA has identified the following factors as those that most likely contributed to the contamination of fresh, whole cantaloupe with the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, which has been implicated in the multi-state outbreak of listeriosis. NOTE, the pathogen does not appear to have contaminated the flesh, but to have been on the exterior of the fruit.

Growing Environment: Low level sporadic Listeria monocytogenes in the agricultural environment and incoming cantaloupe may have contributed to the introduction of the pathogen into the packing facility.

Packing Facility and cold Storage: A truck used to haul culled cantaloupe to a cattle operation was parked adjacent to the packing facility and could have introduced contamination into the facility; Facility design allowed for the pooling of water on the packing facility floor adjacent to equipment and employee walkway access to grading stations; The packing facility floor was constructed in a manner that was not easily cleanable; The packing equipment was not easily cleaned and sanitized; The washing and drying equipment used for cantaloupe packing was previously used for postharvest handling of another raw agricultural commodity (potatoes); and there was no pre-cooling step to remove field heat from the cantaloupes before cold storage, allowing the pathogen to grow even before cold storage.

 

Listeria monocytogenes is a common, and unwelcome, contaminant in food processing plants. It likes to hide out in drains and on processing equipment, so effective sanitation is key to preventing contamination of food. Unlike many other pathogens, Listeria can grow in the refrigerator.

For information on produce safety go to FDA’s Produce Safety webpage: http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm114299.htm

 

The full text of the FDA report can be found at: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodborneIllness/ucm276247.htm