Over the past few weeks, Europe and particularly northern Germany has had an E. Coli outbreak that has killed 22 and infected over 2,300 people. There have been other E. Coli cases reported around Europe but the worst has been seen in northern Germany. The initial reports were that cucumbers imported from Spain, could be the culprits of this outbreak. Tomatoes and lettuce were also suspected and people were advised to not consume raw vegetables. The Spanish government denied that the tainted vegetables came from Spanish. Later Spanish cucumbers were not found to be the source of this E.Coli outbreak. All of the confusion and lack of information as to where the source of the deadly outbreak came from has led to produce from Europe being banned around the world. Then of Sunday, June 5th news outlets were reporting that German bean sprouts were identified as the source of the E. Coli outbreak. The Guardian* reported the following, “The state of Lower Saxony issued an urgent warning to stop eating bean sprouts on Sunday as it believes them to be the link between all the restaurants and food outlets in the outbreak. “ The German government was still urging people to avoid eating raw cucumbers, tomatoes and salad leaves. As of late Monday, June 7th, news outlets and German officials were reporting that beans sprouts were not the source of the deadly E.Coli outbreak but still not giving them the all clear. We are left with the source of the deadly outbreak still yet to be firmly proven.
Although the E. Coli cases have affected only those in Germany living in the area of the outbreak as well as visitors to northern Germany, as someone who lives close to the outbreak I have some questions and concerns. The Czech government has been taking action and removing suspected items from store shelves, But whenever there is an E. Coli outbreak and until the source is firmly identified my concern is how to keep my family from being infected. Luckily my local produce stores (greengrocer), always identify were the produce was grown or shipped from. That is great information that can come in handy in times like this. But in cases, such as this, when the suspected source of infection is not clearly identified or initially identified incorrectly one needs more information to take further steps to keeping safe.
I did some research to help us all make wise choices in protecting and preventing our families from E. Coli. I discovered that this bacteria does not only exist in fruits and vegetables but in meats as well. Any of the aforementioned as well as infected people can spread the E. Coli bacteria. According to WHO (World Health Organization) this bacteria gets into fruits, vegetables through “…contamination may be due to contact with faeces from domestic or wild animals at some stage during cultivation or handling. EHEC has also been isolated from bodies of water (ponds, streams), wells and water troughs, and has been found to survive for months in manure and water-trough sediments.”
The recommendations are to always and throughly was fresh vegetables and fruits with clean water before eating. It is also advised to avoid raw or undercooked meats, and raw milk because they carry a higher risk. WHO also recommends using good hygiene, such as washing hands throughly before handling and consuming food. (They also remind people to wash their hands properly after using the toilet, but I know we all know this already and don’t need to remind you.) They go on to further explain that “The only effective method of eliminating EHEC from foods is to introduce a bactericidal treatment, such as heating (e.g. cooking or pasteurization) or irradiation. ” They, WHO, recommends people follow their local government guidelines in case of an outbreak.
If you still have some concerns or there are small children, elderly, or people with a compromised immune system in your home I would also recommend the following options. Frozen, canned or preserved fruits and vegetables are also a safe option. The food labels will often have the date they were packages and country of origin giving one a more sense of security over not consuming possibly contaminated fresh produce. Since frozen vegetables are quickly blanched, i.e. cooked, before being frozen this should kill the bacteria. Plus they will receive additional cooking time when they are heated in your meals. As for canned vegetables, “Most microorganisms do not survive the commercial canning process, although canned vegetables may contain botulinum toxin. Contaminated canned vegetables are usually easy to recognize and signs include a bulging can, foul odor and spurting liquid when the can is opened. Contaminated fresh vegetables normally display no visible signs.” Source Live Strong.com
Even if you do not live in Germany it is best to know how to prevent and protect yourself and family from E. Coli. These outbreaks happen the world over and it is always wise to keep oneself informed. So remember wash to fruits and veggies well before eating or cooking, do not cross contaminate foods with kitchen utensils, do not undercook meats and wash your hands throughly before handling and eating food.
Nancy Lopez-McHugh is a food blogger, photographer and published author. Most recently she has published "Yummy Pics: A Food Blogger's Guide To Better Photos".