The outbreak and death have been linked to E. coli 0145, a strain of bacteria that produces a deadly toxin that can cause severe kidney damage and death, Reames said.
Most strains of E. coli are harmless and live in the intestines of animals, including humans. But several of them can cause mild to serious disease. Symptoms of E. coli infection include a mild fever, severe abdominal and stomach cramps, diarrhea – which is often bloody – and vomiting.
Some people, especially young children and the elderly, can develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a condition that can lead to serious kidney damage and even death, as a result of exposure to the Shiga-toxin produced by some strains of E. coli.
Several outbreaks of the E. coli 0157:H7 strain infection have occurred in recent years. These outbreaks were associated with undercooked or raw hamburger, alfalfa sprouts, contaminated lettuce and other leafy greens, unpasteurized fruit juices, game meat, dry-cured salami, cheese curds and raw milk, Reames said.
“We’re finding more strains of E. coli bacteria besides the 0157 strain,” said Marlene Janes, LSU AgCenter food scientist.
Because of this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection services have begun testing ground beef for additional strains of E. coli, Janes said.
“Food can become unsafe to eat at any step in the flow of food – where it is grown, during packaging and shipping, or when it is prepared for eating,” Reames said. “Although the American food supply is generally safe and wholesome, disease-causing microorganisms can be anywhere, and research to prevent foodborne illness is ongoing.”
Petting zoos are another way for children to come in contact with E. coli bacteria, Janes said.
“I don’t recommend taking children to petting zoos,” Janes said. “But if you do, make certain the children thoroughly wash their hands. If they get fecal matter on their clothes, make sure the clothes are washed, too.”
Most foodborne illness can be prevented by following basic food safety rules:
– At the grocery, choose frozen and refrigerated items last so they remain cold until you get home.
– Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods as soon as you get home.
– Wash hands, utensils and work surfaces often, both before and after preparing foods.
– Don't allow raw meats, poultry or seafood (or their juices) to contact and contaminate other foods. Keep raw food separate from ready-to-eat or already cooked foods.
– Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
– Cook meats to recommended temperatures using a food thermometer.
– Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb and veal to an internal temperature of 160 degrees as measured with a food thermometer.
– Cook all poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees as measured with a food thermometer.
– Marinate food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature on the counter.
– Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold tap water or in the microwave, not on the counter.
– When preparing fruits and vegetables, cut away any damaged or bruised areas because bacteria that cause illness can thrive in those places. Remove and discard outer leaves.
– Wash fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly in clean, running water. Immediately refrigerate any fresh-cut items such as salad or fruit for best quality and food safety.
– Refrigerate leftovers promptly and reheat leftovers to 165 degrees before eating.
– Don't leave cooked food out at room temperature for more than two hours, one hour when the temperature is above 90 degrees.
– Use leftovers within a few days of preparation.
“I always add, When in doubt, throw it out!” Reames said.