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Bacteria Beware


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Bacteria Beware

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E.ColiThey’re microscopic (10 billion bacteria cells can be found in one gram of soil) and found everywhere. They’re vital to human health, playing an essential role in  (among other things) the human digestive system. We’re talking about bacteria and, as with many things, there always seems to be one “bad apple” in the bunch. When it comes to bacteria, that troublemaker would be the E.coli (Escherichia coli) strain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), E.coli can be found on most cattle farms and petting zoos where it can live in the intestinal tracts of healthy cattle, deer, goats, and sheep. During the slaughtering process, meat can become contaminated and the organisms can accidentally be mixed into meat when it is ground to make ground beef. The bacteria may also be present on a cow’s udders or on dairy equipment and may get into raw milk. The CDC notes that more E.coli infections in the United States have been caused by eating undercooked ground beef than by any other food. It also estimates that 73,000 cases of E.coli infection and 61 deaths occur in the United States each year.

But ground beef isn’t the only food that needs to be handled with caution. Cattle manure is a primary source of E.coli bacteria and it can contaminate streams that run through produce fields which are used for the application of pesticides, irrigation, and washing. Such contamination can then spread to fresh vegetables such as spinach and lettuce.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, symptoms of E.coli infection start about 7 days after exposure. The first sign is severe abdominal cramping which starts suddenly. After a few hours, watery diarrhea starts and lasts for approximately one day. The subsequent loss of fluids and dehydration makes one feel sick and tired. The watery diarrhea then changes to bright red bloody stools—the result of sores in the intestinal tract caused by the infection. The bloody stools can last from 2 to 5 days and a person may have 10 or more bowel movements in a day. A mild fever, nausea or vomiting may also occur.

When it comes to E. coli infection, the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies. The following dietary and hygiene tips from the CDC will greatly reduce the risk of E. coli related illness:

  • Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly. Ground beef should be cooked until a meat thermometer inserted into several areas of the patty (including the thickest part) reads at least 160°F.
  • If you are served an undercooked hamburger or other ground beef product, send it back for further cooking. Don’t forget to also ask for a new bun and plate since contaminated juices could be present.
  • Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods. Avoid cross-contamination. Always wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with raw meat. Never place cooked meat on a surface that has been in contact with raw meat.
  • Only drink milk, juice, and cider that has been pasteurized.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables under running water, especially those that will not be cooked. For additional safety, remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables or peel fruits.
  • Drink municipal water that has been treated with chlorine or another effective disinfectant.
  • Avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.
  • Make certain persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after bowel movements or after changing soiled diapers to reduce the risk of spreading E. coli infection. Those with diarrhea should refrain from swimming in pools or lakes, sharing baths with others, and preparing food for others.

With a little care and good hygiene you can keep yourself and your family members from the unpleasant and sometimes dangerous effects of that little bacteria called E. coli.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—
American Academy of Family Physicians—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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