gallery of foodborne pathogens has grown larger.
once thought to be only one potentially deadly strain of E.coli has been
joined by six others — the so-called “Big Six” as some are calling them.
safety expert says the addition of these new pathogens underscores why ordinary
Americans should take proactive steps to ensure that they and their loved ones
are adequately protected against food-borne illness.
Similarities to E.coli O157:H7
Dr. JeanWeese, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System food safety specialist and
Auburn University professor of food science, says these so-called “Big Six”
bear much in common with the better known E.coli O157:H7 strain (pictured above, right). All are capable of producing bloody
diarrheal illness that can lead to kidney failure and, in some cases, death.
The six new
strains include E.coli O26, O45, O111, O121, O130 and O145.
federal health officials and researchers are now calling for these to be tested
because they are the most likely causes of many food-borne outbreaks that until
recently have been attributed to the better known E.coli O157:H7,” Weese says.
A Third of U.S. Outbreaks Connected with Big Six
with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as much as a
third of the infections in the United States are caused by non-O157:H7 E.coli
know these strains as Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), because they have
acquired genetic traits from one or both Shiga toxins — Stx1 and Stx2. The most potently toxic of the two, Stx2, is
the most commonly associated with acute illness, Weese says.
O157:H7, these strains have turned up in samples of cattle carcasses, retail
beef and raw milk, Weese says.
Recent E.coli O121 Outbreak
strain, E.coli O121, was linked to an outbreak that sickened 32 people in 18
states between December 30, 2012 and April 2, 2013. The vast majority of these ill people were
age 21 or younger. Investigators think a
likely cause was consuming Farm Rich brand frozen food products.
strain was identified in two different Farm Rich brand frozen products
collected from the homes of two ill persons.
More than a
third of the victims were hospitalized.
Two of them developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a type of kidney
failure, though no deaths have been reported.
Causes of the Outbreak
the outbreak? Because the products were
likely precooked, Weese has speculated that contamination may have stemmed from
the breakdown in the company’s HACCP protocol. HAACP, which stands for Hazard
Analysis Critical Control Points, is a series of procedures designed to
safeguard against safety lapses along the food processing chain.
(Above, right: Picture of E.coli bacteria dividing.)
contributing factor may stem from some users not following the reheating directions
carried on the label.
First Rule of Thumb
“One of the first
rules of thumb in food safety is either to cook or, in this case, to reheat a
product according to instructions specified on the packaging,” Weese says. “Unfortunately,
many people have fallen into the habit of heating the product for a shorter
period than the directions recommend or, even worse, allowing it to thaw on the
outbreaks of STECs have been linked to fruits and vegetables, these are almost
invariably traced to warm-blooded animals, including birds, which have passed
through or over farms or gardens, says Kristin Woods, an Alabama Extension food
safety agent in southwest Alabama.
As an added
safeguard, she advises washing produce thoroughly before eating it.
parents should always carry along hand sanitizers whenever they take their
children to petting zoos.
despite the talk of its alleged nutritional benefits, raw milk has been known
to harbor E.coli bacteria and should be avoided for that reason alone, Woods
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