The E.coli Outbreak and Foodborne Illness

From the Doctor’s Blog Nov 5, 2015


Avoid Food Poisoning

What is Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness, or Foodborne Disease, is caused by consuming contaminated food or drink. It is a common, costly–yet preventable–public health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year, one in six Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages, and 3,000 die.

Infectious foodborne illness is caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites, while other foodborne illness can be caused by poisoning from toxins or chemicals.


There has been a recent public resurgence of interest in E.coli (Escherichia coli O157:H7) as 43 Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington closed after being linked to an outbreak. According to CBS News, November 4, 2015, Investigators Closing in on Source of Outbreak “Scientists said Tuesday that they had identified the specific microorganism responsible, believed to be found on fresh produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, cilantro or onions, or possibly even spices.”

As of Wednesday, 41 cases of the illness have been reported, with 12 of those requiring hospital care. Foodborne illness caused by E.coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of animals and humans. Most types are harmless, but some can make you very sick. Most foodborne illnesses resolve on their own, but certain groups are at increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness: pregnant women, the elderly, young children, and people with compromised immune systems.

How to Protect Yourself From Foodborne Illness

“Multi-state outbreaks of foodborne illness have increased sharply in recent years,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday. On average, two dozen occurred from 2010 to 2014, up from six a year from 1973 to 2010. “That’s partly due to better detection, but food industry consolidation has meant companies ship to wider networks of grocery stores and restaurants now, so tainted products can spread more widely as well.”

The CDC is actively pursuing public awareness:  “Safer Food Saves Lives: Stopping Multistate Foodborne Outbreaks“.

Here is what the CDC recommends:

  1. Know your risk of food poisoning. People at higher risk for foodborne illness are pregnant women and newborns, children, older adults, and those with weak immune systems.
  2. Consult your healthcare provider if you think you might be ill with E. coli infection.
  3. Practice proper hygiene, especially good hand washing after using the bathroom, changing diapers, and before preparing or eating food, after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard), before preparing and feeding bottles or foods to an infant, before touching an infant’s mouth, and before touching pacifiers or other things that go into an infant’s mouth.
  4. Keep all objects that enter infants’ mouths (such as pacifiers and teethers) clean.
  5. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and running water.
  6. Follow clean, separate, cook, chill guidelines, which can be found at FoodSafety.gov
  7. Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160°F (70˚C). Use a thermometer to verify the temperature, as color is not a very reliable indicator of how thoroughly meat has been cooked.
  8. Prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  9. Avoid consuming raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
  10. Avoid swallowing water when swimming and when playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.

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This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended as and does not substitute for medical or safety advice. Please consult your health care professional for evaluation of your individual case.