Food Safety: How to Stay E. coli Free

In recent months E. coli has been a hot topic of conversation due to recent outbreaks in Germany, many other parts of Europe and even a few cases here in the U.S.  The cause of this potentially deathly affliction?  Overall the answer has been something as small and simple as contaminated sprout seeds from Egypt according to the International Business Times.   While these latest occurrences have brought the infection back to the top of everyone’s minds, it’s imperative for every restaurant to know the background on it and more importantly how it can most often be prevented.

hamburgers, image from morguefileWhat is E. coli and who does it affect?

Commonly known as E. coli, the technical name for the bacteria is Escherichia coli.   On a day to day basis, a certain strain of the bacteria is already inside your stomach to help you digest food.  However, there is another strain of the germ, usually found in raw/undercooked meat, that when ingested can cause the severe illness we usually associate with the bacteria.

While E. coli can affect anyone, it is most aggressive in children and the elderly.  This is mostly due to a weaker immune system along with a larger opportunity for these two groups to be in close proximity (schools, day cares and nursing homes) with others who may pass along the germ.

How can E. coli be prevented?

There are several ways to help prevent E. coli from spreading.  Here are just a few tips compiled from familydoctor.org, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and ecolifoodpoisoning.net.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.   This makes sure to remove any dirt or fertilizer that the produce has been grown in.  The closer the item is grown to the ground (i.e. lettuce, cabbage, sprouts) the more likely it is to have been affected.
  • Make sure to avoid cross-contamination.   Always use separate knives and cutting boards for raw meat and other items when preparing them.  It’s also important to use separate plates for raw and cooked meat.
  • Ensure that all meat is cooked to the appropriate/suggested temperature.  In terms of E. coli, this is especially important with red meat.  Here’s a great guide to knowing what the right temperature for each meat is.
  • Do not drink unpasteurized milk and juice.
  • Last but not least, make sure you always wash your hands and keep all surfaces wiped down.  While this may be a no-brainer after a trip to the restroom or after taking out the trash, it’s also extremely important after touching meat or other products that could possibly be a contamination issue.

washing hands, image from morguefileIs it possible to permanently get rid of the threat of E. coli?

As the answer to many future dining nightmares, this could happen (to some extent) in the future.  The Huffington Post reports that by using irradiation on food, eating could be a much safer endeavor.  The article continues by saying, “Irradiation zaps food with electron beams, like the kind long used to run TVs, or with gamma rays or X-rays. It’s the same way numerous medical products are sterilized.”  However, because many consumers have a fear of this method, this process continues to be the exception with foods requiring labels when the process is used.

What methods do you and/or your restaurant use to prevent the spread of E. coli?  How have you handled scares and/or outbreaks in the past?  Please leave your comments below.

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