During the summer it is likely you will be outdoors spending time grilling with friends and family. Because there is an increase in reported cases of E. Coli during the summer you need to be especially careful when preparing beef for your friends and family. Just like more flu is reported in the winter, more cases of E. Coli occur during the summer putting your backyard barbecue at risk for poisoning others. Even outbreaks at fast food restaurants and in grocery store aisles can wreak havoc. Learn about the potentially fatal conditions E. Coli can cause and how to protect yourself and others.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) estimates an average of 73,000 cases of E. Coli are reported each year with 61 deaths occurring in 2006. Although E. Coli outbreaks are more common in developing countries it is still a significant problem in the United States. The most common strain of E. Coli reported is O157:H7 and cattle is the main source. O26:H11 and O111:H8 have also been reported strains of E. Coli in the United States and can also cause moderate to severe illness. E. Coli infections usually result from eating undercooked or raw ground beef generally in the form of hamburgers or meatballs. E. Coli can be easily spread if you are not careful while handling and cooking raw beef.
E. Coli can also be found in many unpasteurized beverages, some leafy greens and lettuces, and in salami. E. Coli can be spread with contaminated water usage or by ingestion, and by coming into close contact with a person carrying E. Coli bacteria. Often, “travelers” diarrhea or “Montezuma’s Revenge” is actually a form of E. Coli infection resulting from eating foods or drinks prepared with contaminated water in foreign countries. According to NIAID most people will recover completely from an E. Coli infection but about 8% will suffer with lifelong complications. Symptoms of E. Coli typically appear 2-5 days after consumption and can last up to two weeks. Those with compromised immune systems, and the especially young or old may suffer severe or fatal illness if exposed to E. Coli.
E. Coli can cause moderate to severe nausea, watery or bloody bowel movements, fatigue, fever, intestinal cramping, and vomiting. If you experience any of these symptoms a day or two after eating a possibly rare or raw burger, there is a good chance you may have E. Coli and you should see a doctor immediately. The National Institute of Health (NIH) states that E. Coli poisonings are the leading cause of intestinal and urinary tract infections, and may also cause genital infections. Lifelong complications of E. Coli infections may include blindness, paralysis, high blood pressure, and some people may have surgery to remove part of their intestines.
The US Department of Agriculture recommends cooking ground beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. When cooking beef at home you should use a meat thermometer and keep it clean in between testing. Just looking at a burger is not going to tell you if it is actually done. If your flame is too high or the grill too hot the outside may cook quickly and appear to be done, when it fact it is raw and pink inside. Always use a thermometer when preparing any kind of meat, poultry, or other butcher shop cuts. It may seem elementary, but always wash utensils and plates that held raw meat before re-using them. An anti-bacterial dish soap will kill any germs in combination with hot water. To avoid contaminating other foods with E. Coli, keep raw ground beef away from other foods and meats.
Wash your hands immediately after handling any raw meat. Often at backyard barbeque’s this crucial step is forgotten because you are outside and there may not be a sink readily available. Even if you are at a park there should be a public restroom where you can wash your hands. Don’t be lazy because you may end up regretting it. Before preparing or eating any food you should wash your hands, and after wards as well. Wash all fruits and vegetables in clean water before consuming them or cooking. The outer layers of lettuce and leafy greens should be thrown away and the rest washed before use. Contaminated water supplies can infect crops and they may be able to make it to your table before you are warned. Always wash everything and cook meats thoroughly before eating them to reduce your risk of getting E. Coli.
If you are eating out and you order a burger make sure it is cooked before you bite into it. Often, restaurants rush food orders and what appears to be done is actually pink and bloody, even if you ordered medium well, or well done. If you get a rare burger send it back to be cooked until done and request they use a meat thermometer. If your burger was pretty bloody make sure you get a new bun and a clean plate to avoid contaminating the newly cooked food. By following a couple of simple preventative measures you can keep your family and friends safe from E. Coli this summer. For more information, or to report a outbreak of E. Coli contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at http://www.cdc.gov or 1-800-232-4636 (1-888-232-6348 TDD/TYY).