Doing your best to eat healthier? Sticking with salads over junk food? Here’s a bit of bad news from the CDC. Up to 29 states are now affected by what is quickly becoming the biggest Escherichia coli (E. Coli) outbreak in decades. People who eat the tainted romaine salad leaves think they’re doing themselves a favor, but quickly begin to experience fevers, flu-like symptoms, and severe diarrhea and/or vomiting.
• E. Coli is a gram-negative bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract of most warm-blooded animals, including livestock and humans. It is most frequently contracted after foods like ground beef, milk, and produce come into contact with fecal matter.
• Part of what makes E. Coli is difficult to control is the fact that most of our food is grown in the great outdoors. It takes just one infected rabbit or deer defecating on a plot of produce to spread the germ. If produce isn’t properly washed, E. Coli can sometimes thrive until it reaches your table, making you sick.
• Further complicating matter is the fact that E. Coli can also be transmitted by humans tainted with their own fecal matter (e.g., not properly washing the hands after going to the bathroom). It can also contaminate water sources, especially well water, streams, lakes, and other standing bodies of water.
• Approximately 130 people have been affected by the current outbreak so far. Thankfully, fatalities have been limited to just a single person, mostly due to advances in treatment and care for patients suffering from the disease.
• To prevent E. Coli, check the CDC and other websites regularly for announcements about potential outbreak sources. Wash all produce well in clean, untainted water, keep your hands clean when cooking, and bring meats up to safe temperatures. Raw or rare meat and meat that is mishandled during the cooking process is much more likely to make you sick, as is produce grown in the open air that isn’t washed before being served.