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E. Coli More Dangerous Than Ever, As Recalls of Tainted Meat Surge

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E. coli tainted meat has become a major health problem, as the number of outbreaks and meat recalls blamed on this deadly bacteria have reached record levels in recent months. So far this year, there have been 16 separate recalls of E. coli contaminated meat, double what they where in 2006. Often, the slow action by the US Department of Agriculture and other agencies charged with protecting the US food supply allows E. coli contaminated foods to sicken thousands of people across the country. While Americans simply can’t assume that their food is safe from E. coli, there are some steps that can consumers can take to lessen the threat posed by E. coli bacteria.

E. coli is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the intestines of most animals, including humans. Most types of the bacteria are harmless, but the E. coli 0157:H7 strain can be particularly dangerous to people. The symptoms of E. coli poisoning usually occur within 3 to 9 days after a victim eats contaminated foods. E. coli 0157:H7 causes a disease called hemorrhagic colitis, which is the sudden onset of stomach pain and severe cramps. This is followed by diarrhea that is watery and bloody. Sometimes there is vomiting, but there is no fever. The illness lasts about a week. While most people will recover completely, E. coli poisoning can be very dangerous for children, the elderly and anyone with a weak immune system. In some cases, E. coli 0157:H7 will cause a disorder called hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be life-threatening. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), E. coli 0157:H7 is responsible for sickening 73,000 people every year, and of those, 60 will die from the disease.

Fresh vegetable like spinach have been known to cause E. coli outbreaks. But because the E. coli 0157:H7 strain occurs naturally in the intestines of cows, most outbreaks this year have been traced to tainted beef. Meat products are likely to become contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7 during slaughtering. Ground beef is especially troublesome because the grinding process can spread the E. coli bacteria throughout the meat. Fortunately, E. coli bacteria can be killed by cooking meats to an internal temperature of 160-degrees. For safety’s sake, consumers should use a meat thermometer to insure that this temperature has been reached, as color is not an accurate indicator of doneness. Consumers should also wash their hands frequently when handling raw meat, and utensils previously used on raw meat should never be used to prepare other food items unless they are washed first in hot, soapy water.

People who are suffering from an intestinal illness that could be E. coli should see a doctor immediately. E. coli poisoning can only be confirmed through the testing of stool samples. E. coli victims should be given plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, but under no circumstances should a person suffering from E. coli poisoning be given anti-diarrheal medications, as this can prevent the E. coli toxin from being eliminated from the body. These medications can actually increase the risk that an E. coli victim will develop hemolytic uremic syndrome.

E. coli poisoning is an entirely preventable infection, but unfortunately neither food processors nor government regulators are doing enough to keep E. coli tainted meat out of the food supply. Consumers are the last line of defense in preventing E. coli poisoning. Being safe during food preparation can go a long way towards eliminating the risk of developing a deadly E. coli infection.

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