"Hundreds of thousands of the bug can fit on the head of a pin; as few as 10 can lodge in a salad and end in lifelong disability, including organ failure."10 bacteria. This is getting serious.
- Carolyn Lochhead, Crops, Ponds Destroyed In Quest For Food Safety, San Francisco Chronicle, July 13, 2009
E. coli O157:H7 is more virulent than other strains of E. coli, and arguably more virulent than other pathogenic bacteria:
"What makes E. coli O157:H7 truly and decidedly dangerous is its very low infectious dose, and how relatively difficult it is to kill these bacteria. Unlike Salmonella, for example, which usually requires something approximating an "egregious food handling error, E. coli O157:H7 in ground beef that is only slightly undercooked can result in infection." "E. coli O157:H7 is more widespread in our environment, and thus in our food, than it was 20 years ago (first recognized in 1982).1 Most outbreaks have been traced to cattle - the bacteria live in their intestines. Vegetables and other food products become contaminated when the bacteria travel from cow excrement through water, or on insects, birds, and other animals, including humans. Milk becomes contaminated when it picks up the bacteria from udders.1
- Bill Marler, The E. coli O157:H7 Bacteria and Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), May 2009.
E. coli O157:H7:
- Multiplies at temperatures up to 44 degrees Fahrenheit
- Survives freezing and thawing
- Is heat resistant
- Grows at temperatures up to 111 degrees Fahrenheit
- Resists drying
- Can survive exposure to acidic environments
- Are easily transmitted by person-to-person contact.
E. coli O157:H7 has become the scourge of food suppliers and retailers, who risk losing millions if a consumer falls ill from contaminated food. It, along with other pathogens, is leading to questionable practices on farms in an attempt to limit its presence on vegetables.
E. coli 0157:H7 is a problem, a modern problem. We need modern solutions, something smarter and less destructive than the scorched earth practices described in Lochhead's article above. We need government, industry, and academia working together on this one.
President Obama's Food Safety Working Group (FSWG) would like your input:
"Have a suggestion for reforming food safety policy? Drop it in the FSWG email comment form, or let the Working Group know on twitter via their account FSWGListens or by using the hashtag #whsafefood in your tweets. You may also contribute via the White House Facebook page."