Europe is currently besieged by a serious outbreak of a rare strain of E. coli. So far, the outbreak has killed over 18 people, and sickened hundreds. And, perhaps the most frightening fact of all, the cause of the outbreak is unknown though the source is thought to be some type of salad vegetable.
Clearly, this is really scary stuff. The rare strain of E. coli is particularly lethal and virulent, causing kidney failure in hundreds. Particularly vulnerable are the young and the elderly, and it has us wondering, could it spread to the US? Is my family safe? Though the outbreak is unlikely to spread across the Atlantic, there are a few practical things you can do to protect your family.
Go for Quality:
The main source of E. coli is animal, especially cattle, manure. Ground beef is the main culprit. But because we use manure to fertilize crops, E. coli can also make an appearance in leafy greens, watery vegetables like tomatoes or cucumbers, and sprouts. Finally, E. coli can show up in unpasteurized milk, apple juice, orange juice, or even water. Essentially, everything. The best course of action is to buy quality products from quality vendors who know the source of their meat and produce. Avoid bargain meats, especially those that come from multiple unknown sources. As for vegetables, it’s also a good idea to try and buy single source varieties, such as buying heads of lettuce as opposed to the pre-packaged stuff.
Keep It Clean:
When preparing meat, be sure not to cross contaminate you work surfaces and knives, and clean as you go. Cook meat to recommended temperatures, especially if you have any doubts about the quality of the source. When working with fresh vegetables, wash all veggies thoroughly, even prepackaged, pre-washed lettuces mixes.
Know Your Food:
Small batch, locally grown foods are much less likely to have E. coli contamination. Of course, there’s no silver bullet, but buying local produce from farmers you know is a great option for safe food. Because of the poor conditions feedlot cattle are raised in, and the grain-based diet they are fed, industrial agriculture is the main culprit behind the E. coli in our food system. Buying small and local means you know where your food came from. As with the current outbreak in Europe, it can take weeks to trace the source of contamination, and because of our global food system, contaminated food could be widespread and incorporated into a variety of industrial food products by then. Whether it’s meat or veggies, going local means you know your food.
Because so many of the things we consume come from industrial sources, there is no way to guarantee that you won’t come into contact with this dangerous bacteria. But, with a few common sense steps, you can reduce your risk.