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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Can you avoid E.Coli?



Chipotle has certainly been in the news about E. Coli outbreaks at its restaurants.  What is E. Coli and what can you do to avoid getting an infection?  WebMD, CNN, CDC and others have focused on E. Coli and provide some excellent tips for consumers.
What is E. Coli?
It is a bacteria and the official name is Escherichia coli.  Food infections can come from animals or humans.  It is found in both animal and human intestines.   A simple way to describe it is “Poop Germs”.  Many of us can have E. Coli in our intestines and it is harmless.  However, some strains can make you sick with diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses and if severe enough even kidney failure.
What foods can be contaminated with E. Coli?
Most commonly, E. Coli outbreaks are linked to undercooked hamburgers.  Produce can be contaminated and is the leading reason for outbreaks.  Raw milk as it hasn’t been pasteurized, and unpasteurized apple cider. 
How does E. Coli get into our food?
Animals are one source as noted above.  Slaughter houses can contaminate meat if the meat gets in contact with cattle feces.  Cow feces can also wash down into a field of celery or other produce.  If cow feces comes into contact with milk, the milk will be contaminated. Server didn’t wash their hands properly?  If their feces is contaminated with E. Coli and they serve your food, touch your plate, touch your glass, touch your menu, the E. Coli germs can be transferred to you. 
What are the symptoms of E. Coli infections?
Traveler’s diarrhea or Montezuma’s revenge can be caused by E. Coli.  For this, get some rest and drink fluids.  Other symptoms include vomiting, a fever, and even bloody diarrhea.  For these symptoms, seek out medical help.  CDC notes children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems can have more severe symptoms with E. Coli infections.  Your doctor may not prescribe antibiotics as that could make the symptoms worse.  And you probably won’t be prescribed antidiarrheal meds as that could keep the E. Coli in your intestines longer, prolonging your illness.
How can you avoid E. Coli infections?
Eat pasteurized dairy foods, pasteurized milk.  Buy pasteurized apple cider and cook beef to 160 degree F.  In the fridge, put meat in a tray or wrap up so the meat juice doesn’t drip and contaminate produce or other foods in the fridge.  After cutting meat, wash the cutting board and knife in hot, soapy water.  It is good idea to use separate cutting boards for vegetables/fruit and meats.  Some people buy different color cutting boards to ensure they keep them separate. Hand washing and then drying with a paper towel is also important.  Drying your hands on the “kitchen towel” may spread “poop germs” throughout the kitchen. 

So stay healthy this year and avoid E. Coli infections by choosing food and restaurants wisely and using safe cooking habits in the kitchen.   For more information on the E. Coli outbreak at Chipotle, watch the video from CNN at Chipotle E. Coli outbreak now linked to illness in 9 states.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a good Q and A on E. Coli at: Q and A:  E. Coli.   

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