Over the past few months, we’ve run a series of articles focusing on the most common causes of food-borne illnesses and product recalls. This month, we continue our series with a look at how E. coli and the related STEC bacteria strains are spread and how you can prevent your guests from consuming contaminated food.
Food Safe Training and E. coli
E. coli poisoning recently garnered national attention with a nationwide outbreak traced to Chipotle restaurants. Even with this high-profile case, E. coli is no longer ranked as a top-five cause of food-borne illness according to the CDC. It is, however, still very important to understand how to reduce the risk of spreading illness due to E. coli because according to this same study, this bacterium causes over 2,000 hospitalizations each year.
In order to control the spread of E. coli, we must first know where it comes from. The STEC strains may exist in:
- Undercooked ground beef
- Unpasteurized milk and cheese
- Unpasteurized juices
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Unwashed vegetables
If you have worked in the food industry for a length of time, you know that you must cook ground beef thoroughly in order to kill E. coli, but some of the other causes might come as a surprise. We have discussed the dangers of serving raw milk products numerous times in the past, and we can now add the potential for E. coli poisoning to the list of risks involved with consuming unpasteurized dairy products.
Raw fruits and vegetables pose a threat that often goes undetected. While the STEC bacterium does not naturally occur in raw produce, exposure to cross contamination is a real risk. E. coli naturally occurs in the digestive tract of livestock, and it spreads through contact with the animal, its feces or raw milk. Produce can be contaminated simply by a farmer walking through a cow pasture and transferring it to the soil raw vegetables grow in by wearing the same shoes. The same can happen with farm equipment on a much larger scale.
To keep your vegetables safe, especially leafy greens and sprouts, we urge you to wash all produce that you receive before serving it to guests or incorporating it into other menu items.
Next month, our series will continue as we tackle the number-one culprit of food-borne illness, the easily spread norovirus.