Ecoli The risks of infection are not just associated with eating poorly cooked food

You may remember a serious outbreak at a Surrey Farm left a number of children needing hospital treatment. With concerns about the length of time the farm remained open even after concerns were raised.
Just what is ecoli ?
It is a bacterium commonly found in the intestines of man and animals. We need this bacteria to break down cellulose and it assists in the absorption of vitamin K, the blood-clotting vitamin
E. coli is the abbreviated name of the bacteria called Escherichia coli, that are a normal inhabitant of the large intestine of mammals and birds. The human intestine contains many bacteria necessary for us to maintain a normal and healthy life.

However, certain strains of E. coli produce a potent poison, or toxin, which causes illnesses ranging from mild diarrhoea through to very severe inflammation of the gut.

Occasionally this can cause complications such as kidney failure, and anaemia.

The most important toxin-producing strain associated with human illness is known as E. coli O157 this is a mutant form which lives in the intestines of some cattle, sheep and goats but is not naturally found in the intestines of man.

How can the infection occur?

People can become infected by:

• eating infected food, mainly meat, unpasteurised milk and cheese.
• contact with infected animals, such as at farms or animal sanctuaries.
• contact with other people who have the illness, through inadequate hand washing after using the toilet, and/or before food-handling, particularly in households, nurseries and infant schools.
• eating unwashed vegetables which may have been infected by manure from infected cattle.
• drinking or swimming in infected water, such as river water or stream water.

How can you avoid getting infected with E. coli O157?

Handle food and drink safely. Fully cook minced meat products like beef burgers or meat loaf so that they are coloured all the way through, and no blood runs from them.

Keep cooked and uncooked meats separately; store uncooked meat on the bottom shelf of the fridge to avoid dripping raw meat juices onto other food.

Never put cooked food back on a plate which has had fresh uncooked meat on it.

Thoroughly wash all salads and vegetables that are to be eaten raw.

Boil any drinking water if you are unsure of its source.

Do not swim in water that may be contaminated

Personal hygiene is also very important. Thoroughly wash hands after using the toilet, handling raw meat, before meals and after contact with animals.

Ensure children wash their hands with warm water and soap after contact with animals, particularly while on farm visits.