By: Candess Zona-Mendola

Yesterday, April 21, 2016, there was yet another announcement, this time by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, of a ground beef recall relating to beef potentially with E. Coli O157:H7 contamination.[1]

This time, the Meating Place, Inc., a butcher shop located in the west side of Buffalo, New York, was the vendor selling its Lorigo Brand beef patties. The recall comes after a purported routine inspection by the United States Department of Agriculture yielded concerning results in the company’s in-plant review. The potentially tainted meat was produced on April 15, 2016 and stored frozen in five pound boxes bearing the establishment number “Est 8631.” The United States Department of Agriculture reported in its notification that the potentially tainted patties were shipped to retail and institutional locations in the Buffalo, New York area.

As of the time of this post, no one has yet been identified as ill relating to this recall. However, as the product is frozen, the United States Department of Agriculture believes most of the batch to be frozen in consumer’s freezers. Therefore, it is highly recommended to not ingest this product and immediately dispose of it. For those of you concerned you may have the product in your possession, the Beef Label hereto is a picture of the product’s label, courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture.

What is E. Coli O157:H7 and why should I be concerned?

E. Coli O157:H7, or Escherichia coli O157:H7, is a dangerous and potentially fatal pathogen to humans that is found in an array of places, including the intestines of animals like goats, cows, and sheep. As these animals have different digestive systems, and as cows lack a Shiga toxin receptor, E. Coli O157:H7 is harmless to them. However, the concern is that these animals are not only carriers of this very dangerous pathogen, but they are also common eating and dairy animals. According to a recent study, the prevalence of E. coli O157:H7 in North American feedlot cattle herds ranges from 0 to 60%.[2] The concerning reality is that modern science has not yet completely figured out how animals become carriers of E. coli O157:H7.

Although most strains of E. Coli are harmless to humans, a species of these pathogens, like E. Coli O157:H7, cause hemorrhage in the intestines by producing a toxin alike to the toxins seen in Shigella infections. Essentially, this toxin causes damage to the intestine, internal bleeding and clotting, and potentially colon death. Symptoms of this infection range anywhere from dehydration, stomach cramping, easy bruising, pallor, and bloody diarrhea. The onset of this infection is quite rapid, and can lead to another concerning, and potentially fatal, disorder called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome is a life-threatening complication of E. Coli O157:H7 poisoning that leads to acute kidney failure. It is encouraged to immediately seek medical attention if you suspect you have been infected with E. Coli O157:H7. Infection by E. Coli O157:H7 is also quite concerning as it does not take a high concentration of the pathogen to cause infection. This means that, without proper sanitation and cooking practices, it is relatively easy to become infected by only a small amount of food or milk.

How does E. Coli O157:H7 get into milk and food?

All a human must do to become infected with E. Coli O157:H7 is ingest or orally come in contact with contaminated food or milk. The transmission of the pathogen into the food itself occurs with a food product coming into contact with animal fecal matter. For those of you who read The Raw Milk Diaries, you know that contamination can occur in a variety of methods, including human contamination on their hands and attire.

Prevention is the Best Course of Action

The United States Department of Agriculture banned the sale of ground beef containing E. Coli O157:H7 strain in 1994. In fact, an infection by E. Coli O157:H7 is so concerning that most states require medical providers to report instances of infection. There have also been food safety practices implemented by restaurants, food companies, and manufacturing plants that help reduce the transmission of E. Coli O157:H7. However, even with all of these safety plans in place, people are still getting sick.

The good news is that the spread of dangerous and potentially fatal pathogens, such as E. Coli O157:H7, are preventable. Apart from the obvious washing hands and surfaces thoroughly and avoiding contact with those already sickened by the infection, there are other methods of prevention that are worth mentioning.

  1. Avoid consuming raw milk. Raw milk is milk that has not been pasteurized. More or less, it is straight from cow to bottle. Most importantly, raw milk is dangerous. Visit here for more information about raw milk.
  2. Avoid consuming unpasteurized juice. Alike to raw milk, unpasteurized juice can also be contaminated with E. Coli O157:H7 in a wide variety of ways. Pasteurization is proven to kill E. Coli O157:H7 if a particular fruit or vegetable has come into contact with it.
  3. Use a Meat Thermometer. An investment of a good quality meat thermometer is always a good idea for food safety as a whole, but a great idea when it comes to preventing E. Coli O157:H7 infection. As a prevention tool, it is best to cook meat thoroughly until it reaches a temperature of at least 160° F. One cannot decipher the temperature and doneness of meat purely by sight – meaning that, just because it is not pink, does not mean it is done. Be cautious and use the thermometer.
  4. Practice good hygiene. Beyond the obvious practice of good hygiene. If you are someone who works with food, meticulous hygiene is a must. Wash hands often. Keep a clean work space. Store food at the proper temperature and in proper containers. Do not cross contaminate spaces. Clean and sanitize all tools, fruits, vegetables, and other kitchen items.
  5. Get educated. The best way to avoid a problem, is to know how it is caused and what to do to prevent it. Read about E. Coli O157:H7. Help educate others about what it is and how to avoid getting sick. There will be more posts coming soon to help you through this process.

As you can see, prevention of the onset and spread of E. Coli O157:H7 is key.

References

[1] http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/FSIS-Content/internet/main/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/recall-case-archive/archive/2016/recall-031-2016-release

[2] Jeon SJ, Elzo M, Dilorenzo N, Lamb GC, Jeong KC (2013). “Evaluation of Animal Genetic and Physiological Factors That Affect the Prevalence of Escherichia coli O157 in Cattle.”. PLOS ONE 8 (2): e55728. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055728. PMID 23405204