As I read the headlines in Wednesday’s Newton Kansan, I decided to share information about
E. coli from a K-State Research and Extension publication revised by Karen Blakeslee, M.S. Extension Associate,
Food Science and Fadi Aramouni, Ph.D Professor, Food Science. I hope you find it helpful in preventing this
dreaded foodborne illness.
What is E.coli O157:H7
Fadi Aramouni, Ph.D. Professor, Food Science E.coli O157:H7 is a particular strain of Escherichia coli
bacteria. E.coli O157:H7 is different from most other E.coli because it produces potent toxins and can
cause foodborne or person-to-person transmitted disease.
How serious is the illness?
The toxin produced by this organism damages the intestinal lining. Severe abdominal cramps and watery,
possibly bloody, diarrhea occur. Nausea and vomiting, with or without a low-grade fever, can occur as the
colon wall becomes inflamed where the bacteria attach.
Hemorrhagic colitis is usually self limiting in healthy adults. Recovery occurs within four to 10 days.
Children, elderly adults or immunocompromised individuals are more susceptible. Hemorrhagic
Colitis can be severe, requiring hospitalization in up to 50 percent of patients.
In 2 to 15 percent of the confirmed cases in children, the infection may develop into hemolytic uremic
syndrome (HUS). This syndrome begins three to four days after the contaminated food is consumed and
lasts eight to 10 days. HUS symptoms are acute abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea, hemolytic anemia,
low-grade fever, and urinary tract infection. It destroys red blood cells and the lining of blood vessel walls.
This ultimately can lead to kidney failure with the possible permanent loss of kidney function. Dialysis
may be needed for recovery. HUS is a leading cause of acute kidney failure in children and the elderly.
What foods are most likely to be contaminated?
Most of the confirmed E.coli O157:H7 cases have been linked to undercooked ground beef. Other sources
of the bacteria have included raw milk, mayonnaise that had been contaminated with meat drippings,
unpasteurized apple cider, and salami. Fresh produce can become contaminated in the field,
due to exposure to wildlife and contaminated water run-off. Fresh sprouts (i.e., alfalfa and radish)
contaminated with E.coli O157:H7 led to a large outbreak in Japan’s public schools.
Outbreaks have been the results of contact with contaminated public waters, including swimming pools.
Recent outbreaks have been with children handling petting zoo or farm animals and not washing their
What can you do to protect yourself and your family?
■ Avoid eating or serving undercooked ground meat. When eating hamburgers away from home, check with a
fork to make sure they are done all the way through. Send back any undercooked
hamburger or other foods made from ground meat. Prevent cross contamination between raw meat and
ready to eat food. At home, your best safety measure is to use a thermometer to verify that the internal
temperature of ground beef patties reaches 160°F. Research by Kansas State University, later verified
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, indicates that internal cooked meat color is a poor indication of
adequate doneness. Ground beef patties cooked to as low as 130°F. sometimes
appear to be fully cooked (termed premature browning).
■ Quickly freeze or refrigerate all ground meat and other perishable foods after grocery shopping. Never thaw
food on the counter.
■ Wash your hands, utensils, and work areas with hot, soapy water to keep the bacteria from spreading after you
have contact with raw meat. Also, wash your hands after using the bathroom, diapering a child or handling
animals. Wash your hands with soap and water as hot as your hands can tolerate. Scrub for at least 20
seconds, paying particular attention to your nails, the areas around rings, and between your fingers. If
you are ill, ask someone else to cook. Purchase food from approved, reputable suppliers.
What are the government and the food industry doing to deal with E.coliO157:H7?
The USDA has initiated programs to eliminate or reduce bacterial contamination throughout the part of
the food system it regulates, from production to consumption. On-farm production, slaughter operations,
processing plants, food services, retail outlets, and consumers are focal methods for detecting organisms,
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point ,HACCP, Programs, and education are components.
Food service operations are required to have a manager certified in foodborne disease prevention. This is
typically done by passing the ServSafe® Food Safety Training program. Food service employees are also
encouraged to take this training. ServSafe is a class taught here at the Harvey County Extension Office.
I was recertified in May of 2013. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration through the Food Code and
state health departments are promoting HACCP in food-service and processing plants, with increased
attention to hygiene and the use of proper storage, cooking, and holding temperatures. In the wake
of foodborne E.coli O157:H7 outbreaks traced to apple juice and cider, the FDA now requires warning
labels on fresh, unpasteurized juice products and producers must have HACCP plans for juices. Food
manufacturers and processors, food-service and retail food operations, and others also are working to
improve food safety and sanitation. They strive to control harmful organisms that might contaminate food
at various points along the path from the farm to the table.
By: Susan M. Jackson