Recently released documents publishing the results of E.coli 0157:H7 in California’s central coast indicate that the bacteria are present but not prevalent.
E. coli 0157:H7, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), are bacteria that can cause disease by making a toxin called Shiga Toxin.
Michele Jay-Russell, a specialist with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFSS), said that E. coli 0157:H7 can cause several problems for people infected with it.
“People infected with E. coli O157:H7 may suffer from abdominal cramps and diarrhea, sometimes bloody. Severe infections may require hospitalization and result in kidney damage and even death. Those most at risk for serious complications include young children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems,” Jay-Russell said.
This type of E. coli, which was responsible for the 2006 baby spinach-related outbreak that left 205 people sick and three people dead, is being studied with care by many researchers.
“E. coli O157:H7 can be transmitted to people through ingestion of contaminated foods or contact with infected animals such as during a visit to a petting zoo. E. coli O157:H7 can also be transmitted from an infected person’s feces, if there is poor hygiene,” Jay-Russell said.
Since the 2006 outbreak, farmers and the government have been working closely to determine more effective methods in dealing with the presence of E. coli.
In a study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2006 – following the outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 in baby-spinach – researchers concluded that the contamination was likely not rooted to just one source, but instead, to several.
“In summary, E. coli O157 contamination of spinach and other leafy greens is likely a multi-factorial process. Additional research is needed to develop and implement effective risk assessment and management practices,” the CDC report concluded.
In regards to the recent publishing of results in the central coast, Jay-Russell said out of the 1,133 fecal samples, taken over the last two years, 20 animals showed positive results for E. coli 1057:H7 contamination.
“The findings are not a cause for alarm. In fact, the study results support a ‘co-management’ approach dealing with potential risks from wild animal intrusions. We are optimistic that food safety practices relating to wildlife management and environmental stewardship can co-exist in the central coast,” Jay-Russell said.
She said the results revealing feral pigs to have positive samples, could possibly link them to the baby-spinach outbreak in 2006. However, there have been significant improvements in food safety practices since the outbreak.
“Today, the probability of a leafy green field getting contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 from wildlife is very low,” she said.
The CDC’s recently released report in April 2010 supports Jay-Russell’s statement that the incidence of animal contaminated E. coli has decreased in recent years.
“Compared with the preceding three years [from 2006 to 2008}, significant decreases in the reported incidence of Shigella and STEC O157 infections were observed,” the CDC report said.
E. coli still continues to be a concern for the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Jay-Russell identified 2009’s cookie dough incident, where E. coli was found in Nestle USA’s Tollhouse cookie dough, as one source of concern.
The CDC and FDA are currently investigating the presence of E. coli 1045 in shredded romaine lettuce. The CDC has reported 26 illnesses in five states as of May 21.
Nevertheless, the FDA-funded “Western Center for Food Safety” program at UC Davis, along with other similar UC Davis programs, remains involved in researching E. coli.
“The mission of the ‘Western Center for Food Safety’ is to research the interface between production agriculture and food protection, identify real-world solutions to food safety challenges in these systems, and communicate new knowledge through outreach and education,” Jay-Russell said. “E. coli research is a key component of this research, especially its presence and movement in the produce growing environment.”
For more information, those interested can go to wifss.ucdavis.edu.
ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.