If you haven’t read – there’s been an outbreak of Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) in romaine lettuce. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported the first death in connection with the outbreak. In addition to the death, many people have reported food poisoning from the lettuce. The CDC recommends throwing out any romaine you have from Yuma, Arizona.
But what is E. coli? Escherichia coli is a group of bacteria found in the environment including in foods and in humans/animals. That’s right, you could have strains of E. coli in you already, but most strains are actually harmless. However, there are some strains that are malicious and cause minor issues such as diarrhea (diarrheagenic E. coli) and other cause more serious issues such as UTI and pneumonia.
In general, when we hear the news talk about foodborne illness outbreaks (like the current romaine lettuce recall) they are referring to Shiga toxin-producing E. coli. This strain has some of the more serious symptoms such as diarrhea (usually bloody), fever, and vomiting. As with many illnesses, this can be fatal for infants and the elderly.
How can infections be prevented?
E. coli infections can be prevented by simple rules you learned as a child:
WASH YOUR HANDS – after using the bathroom, after contact with animals, after touching raw meats, after being outside.
COOK MEAT – cook meats thoroughly to safe temperatures.
DON’T DRINK – Don’t drink raw milk (or unpasteurized dairy products) or water from natural sources (and water used in a bath)