E. coli Outbreak Underlines Need for Proper Food Safety Precautions

August 24, 2011
Fresh produce can be a potential vector for disease.
Fresh produce can be a potential vector for disease.

A recent outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 in fresh strawberries has sickened at least ten people in Oregon in the last month. The tainted strawberries were grown at Jaquith Strawberry Farm in Washington County and sold during late June and July. Strawberries from the farm are no longer on the market.

The Oregon Health Authority issued a news announcement early in the week, stating: E. coli is a common inhabitant of the gastrointestinal tract and is usually harmless. But E. coli O157:H7 is a strain of the bacterium carried by some animals, that can contaminate food and water, and that produces toxins that can cause mild to severe intestinal illness, including severe cramps and diarrhea that is often bloody. Some patients develop complications that require hospitalization. Approximately 5 percent of infected persons, especially young children and the elderly, suffer serious and potentially fatal kidney damage.

“We’re following the recommendation of the Oregon Health Authority, and advising anyone with uncooked berries that they believe may have come from this farm to throw them out,” said Carolyn Raab, an Oregon State University Extension Foods and Nutrition Specialist. “Cooking does kill bacteria. Using the berries in a sauce or a cooked jam that has boiled at 212 degrees is the best safeguard for strawberries of unknown origin.”

Fresh produce is an important part of a healthy diet, and it’s always important to properly clean and prepare all fruits and vegetables before eating, said Maureen Quinn, an Extension nutrition outreach specialist in Washington County.

“These outbreaks remind us of the importance of good food safety practices,” said Quinn.

The Oregon Health Authority recommends the following precautions when using uncooked produce:

  1. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
  2. Keep fruits and vegetables and other raw food separated from cooked food.
  3. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap after handling raw foods, as well as before eating, after using the toilet and after changing diapers.

More information related to food safety, food preparation and food preservation is available on Oregon State University’s Extension Family and Community Health website. For more information related to recent E. coli outbreak in strawberries, visit the Oregon Health Authority.

Author: Aimee Brown
Source: Carolyn Raab