This article, which is supported by two other articles about E.coli, is primarily aimed at people who are engaged in working in food preparation areas, either at home or at work. You will learn, as you progress through this article, it is imperative that the highest standards of hygiene are maintained whilst preparing food in any environment so as to minimise health risked for the consumers.
The focus should of course not just be within the home or workplace, but in any location were food is being prepared, including church halls and bar-b-ques. The problem is you cannot see, taste or smell the bacteria. If personal and food preparation areas and transportation facilities are not maintained to the highest standards, the bacteria can have a serious detrimental effect on to the people who will consume it. Of course if this occurs within business premises, the effects could be serious for either your staff or your customers or maybe both.
Pathogenic Bacteria in the Kitchen
One good example of the serious bacteria is Escherichia coli otherwise known as E. coli. This bacterium produces Vitamin K which helps the body break down and digest food and normally lives both inside your intestines and in the intestines of animals. In most circumstances, the E. coli bacteria are a normal, often beneficial, element of the human intestinal flora and, being confined to the intestines, cause no harm to the individual. Unfortunately, certain mutant strains of the bacteria (E. coli 0157) can travel from the intestines into the blood where they can cause a serious infection.
A Recent Outbreak of E. coli in the UK
A recent E. coli outbreak in the UK saw sufferers infected over an eight month period. Although the key source of contamination was not found, strong links were made with the way in which leeks and potatoes had been handled. There were a number of occasions where people may have caught the infection from either cross-contamination in storage, where vegetables had not been washed, hands were not properly washed after handling the vegetables or even by not cleaning equipment after the vegetables had been prepared. In this instance, 250 people were affected and almost half were under 16 years of age. With most food-borne illnesses, the young and the old are particularly vulnerable, but this study highlighted the number of points in the chain when contamination can occur.
A Case of E. coli Associated With Salad Consumption
In May 2011 the E. Coli 0157 bacteria was ingested by 80 people in Germany and hundreds of others were infected with a high percentage of these being women. It was believed at the time that contaminated salad may have been the cause of the harmful bacteria. However, that’s no reason for you to stop eating your greens!
E. coli is Extremely Virulent
E. coli 0157 has got to be one of the most effective ‘baddies’ out there because you don’t need to ingest many of the individual organisms to become ill. Just 10 individual organisms could have a nasty effect on a human whereas you’d need to ingest over 1000 Salmonella organisms to have the same effect.
Good Food Hygiene Prevents E. coli Food Poisoning
So it isn’t down to the food itself. You could eat something which is hideously inedible providing it had been farmed, prepared and served in a safe way. E. coli 0157 is a truly nasty organism indeed, but awareness takes away the scariness. Following rules of good food hygiene means that the useful side of E coli can keep itself busy helping our bodies produce Vitamin K rather than causing incapacitating illness.
In future articles we’ll explain in greater detail how E. coli contamination is caused and how simple food hygiene systems can be put in place.