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Food Safety Extension Specialist Provides Spinach E. coli Advice

hat are designed to reduce or eliminate many of the bacteria, but the processing steps must be mild enough to avoid destruction of the produce. So there may be some residual bacteria present on the food. If the food was contaminated by an illness causing bacteria or virus, like other organisms, they may not be completely eliminated by the processing. It is important to prevent these bacteria from growing."

He considers the entire food supply safe, and reports that pre-packaged foods are as safe as most other fresh foods. But it is important to look at how much handling of the fresh food occurs.

"More hand contact may increase the risk of fecal contamination of the food by the handler," he said. "Indeed, the leading cause of food borne illness is a virus that is transmitted by human stool contamination of the food. Also, temperature abuse of any fresh food will increase the potential for illness causing bacteria to grow. Cold is the key for pre-cut or bagged produce."

The specific strain of E. coli in the latest alert, 0157:H7, has been found in a variety of foods and locations, according to Beattie. He said it is generally associated with fecal contamination of soil, water, food, hands and environment, and in one case the air.

"Importantly, a person ill with O157 can easily contaminate others if proper hygiene is not followed. Hand-washing is critically important in working with ill people," he said.

Beattie reports that this strain of E coli seems to be particularly infectious; only 10 to 100 organisms may be needed to make a person ill. Initial symptoms include abdominal cramps and watery diarrhea. Fever usually does not occur.

"In most healthy adults the illness runs its course in about eight days," he said. "Young children and elderly may have very severe complications that include anemia and kidney failure, fever, and neurological issues. This is why it is so important to feed kids well c
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