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article imageSpotlight on the recent U.S. E.coli outbreak: Interview Special

By Tim Sandle     Apr 22, 2018 in Health
On Friday, April 13th, the Center for Disease Control confirmed the cause of a multi-state E.coli O157-H7 related to chopped Romaine lettuce. This was the second major incident in the U.S. his year. A leading researcher provides some insights.
The April 2018 contamination incident in the U.S. affected 35 people across 11 states, hospitalizing 22 and causing kidney failure in 3 victims. This outbreak was the result of cases of eating the lettuce between the period March 22nd – March 31st, 2018. However, the cause of the outbreak was not confirmed until some three weeks after the first illness was reported. No recall was issued on the lettuce.
This was the second Escherichia coli O157-H7 outbreak connected with leafy greens in the U.S. With the other case, the specific type of greens was not confirmed. The earlier case ended on January 25th, 2018 and it left 25 people ill in 15 states, 9 hospitalizations and 1 associated death.
Different sorts of lettuce at a market in Helsinki  Finland in 2007.
Different sorts of lettuce at a market in Helsinki, Finland in 2007.
Mahlum
Escherichia coli O157:H7 is one of the Shiga toxin–producing types of [i]E. coli[/i]. It is a cause of disease, typically foodborne illness caused through consumption of contaminated and raw food, including raw milk. Infection with this type of pathogenic bacteria may lead to hemorrhagic diarrhea, and to kidney failure. Most illness are linked to the through distribution of contaminated raw leaf green vegetables, undercooked meat and raw milk.
One commonality between these incidents is that by the time the news about the outbreak comes out, the damage to human lives has already been done. These issues are of concern to Dr. Shawki Ibrahim (Colorado State University), especially in relation to the information being given by thought leaders in the produce and food safety world regarding the improper cleaning and handling of produce.
These types of points are outlined in the following video:
Dr. Ibrahim is an expert in the field of environmental toxins and he has provided Digital Journal readers with his thoughts on the topic. He is of the view that we must change our approach to how we think about how we process our produce, as the most recent case was with cut lettuce, which is supposed to be pre-washed.
In terms of vulnerabilities, Dr. Ibrahim notes that “most of the ‘pre-washed’ produce uses chlorine as a processing aid, which is only effective to a log 1-2 bacteria reduction – only about 90 percent”. Dr. Ibrahim believes is not sufficient. Based on data from FDA.gov and supporting research, it is clear that water and even chlorinated water show much lower than a 1 percent reduction of bacteria.
Dr. Ibrahim adds further that “rinsing leafy greens with water alone, which is the recommendation for consumers from the FDA and CDC, is not enough to remove pathogenic biofilms from harmful E .coli, salmonella and listeria, the main pathogens that cause foodborne illness.”
Glass representation of the bacterium Escherichia coli
Glass representation of the bacterium Escherichia coli
Luke Jerram
Moreover, he adds that “here is no ‘kill’ step in cooking lettuce; therefore, it is critical that the consumer take the sufficient precautions to thoroughly clean their produce – whether pre-cut or whole – with a product that is effective in removing pathogenic biofilms that adhere to the produce’s surface.”
In terms of moving forwards, Dr. Ibrahim notes that “we don’t wash our hands with water alone. We don’t wash our clothes with water alone. Why would the tap water that we don’t even drink most of the time be a sufficient cleanser on its own?”
Here he notes there “is clearly a concern regarding produce safety but as a company, we have the responsibility of helping to educate consumers and food handlers and the information available to the general public is extremely conflicted.”
In examining future options, Dr. Ibrahim states that it is now “time for consumers to take matters in their own hands and we have the solution for them to do so in a cost effective and easy way with products designed for the home chef, restaurants, juice bars and produce processors.”
He concludes by saying “whether a consumer is eating at home or eating out, it is imperative that they understand the importance of how their produce is washed in order to mitigate their risk of the potentially fatal complications created by food borne illness.”
More about Escherichia coli, E coli, Food poisoning, Infection, Food
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