This Time, It’s E.coli: Why The Sudden Surge of Food-borne Illness Outbreaks?

E.coli sickness is on the loose in St. Louis, Missouri.

On the heels of one of the deadliest outbreaks of food contamination in United States history, another outbreak in St. Louis has been confirmed. Health officials are currently looking for the cause of a recent outbreak of E.coli in St. Louis and surrounding counties. Though there are no reported deaths as of yet, there are at least 28 confirmed cases and 50 pending confirmation, according to St. Louis Health Department spokesman John Shelton. He added that in all of 2010, St. Louis had only five cases of E.coli.

Apparently there is a lead in the investigation of the source of the contamination outbreak. Almost all of the people who have tested positive for E.coli sickness were shoppers of Schnucks Markets Inc. Shnucks is a popular grocery train in St. Louis, offering over 60 locations. The salad bars in these stores are being tested by health officials for the culprit strands of E.coli. So far, there are no confirmed tests, but Missouri state health officials are currently testing over 38 samples of produce from these salad bars, including broccoli, eggs, carrots, radishes, pineapples, zucchini, red onions, and salad dressings. Officials are confident that the tests will eventually reveal the source of the outbreak.

Same Story, Different Chapter

This most recent E.coli outbreak adds to the long list of food contamination occurrences in the US this year. A couple of the largest cases include a 23-state wide salmonella outbreak and a highly fatal listeriosis outbreak. Contaminated papaya from Mexico appears to be the source of almost 100 cases of salmonella poisoning, the FDA claims.

Papaya, the source of the recent salmonella outbreak.

The papaya is a product of Argromod Produce Inc., of McAllen, Texas. Presently, there have been 10 hospitalizations but no reported deaths. Where there have been deaths, however, is in the outbreak of listeriosis that has claimed 29 people’s lives thus far. The listeriosis outbreak spans across 26 states and is the product of infected cantaloupe from Colorado. The farm that produced this cantaloupe is thought to be Jensen Farms of Holly, Colorado. The Center for Disease Control is labeling the listeriosis outbreak as the “worst since 1924” with close to 30 deaths and 140 confirmed cases.

Reading Between The Lines

If you look back throughout the years at all of the cases of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States, it is easy to see that 2011 is a big year. There are already eleven instances of outbreak and food recalls nationwide, and the year is not even over yet. Some people believe that one of the causes of such an increase in infections is the use of antimicrobials in industrial agriculture. With such exposure to these antimicrobials from our foods that we eat every day, our bodies and bacteria tend to start to become resistant to certain antibodies, increasing the likelihood of infection.

The FDA is working to restrict antimicrobial use.

A large ongoing debate in Congress currently is rooted in this notion of antimicrobials being harmful to human health. There is a push by the FDA towards placing restrictions on the use of antimicrobials by agricultural industries. Citing a recent compilation of studies based on the impact of antimicrobials on human health, the FDA has a strong case. The compilation by Bonnie Marshall and Stuart Levy was released as an article in Clinical Microbiology Reviews. It breaks down particular antimicrobials and their effects on humans, giving eye-opening data that directly links antimicrobial misuse with declines in health. If the FDA ends up having its way, the food industry could change drastically because antimicrobial use is an enormous aspect of industrial agriculture. It really makes you wonder about the safety you take for granted of the food that you eat every day.

About E.coli

E.coli is a bacteria present in all humans in the intestinal tract. Most strands of this bacteria

Most strands of E.coli are found naturally in humans.

are actually harmless to people, but strand O157:H7 causes food poisoning. The symptoms of E.coli infection range from fatigue to death by kidney failure in rare cases. Those infected may experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fever also. In typical cases, a person with the poisonous strand of E.coli will begin to feel these symptoms in three to four days. As of now, there are no treatments for O157:H7, and patients are simply instructed to let the infection pass on its own. As with most bacterial illnesses, children and the elderly are most susceptible to E.coli sickness because of their underdeveloped or decaying immune system.

E.coli infection can occur in humans by drinking contaminated water or food and through physical contact with an infected human or animal. The poisonous strand O157:H7 can survive even in tap or pool water where chlorine is present. Most cases of E.coli sickness from food contamination are because of ingestion of fresh vegetables, unpasteurized milk, and ground beef–all of which contained the O157:H7 strand. Officials say to be sure to wash your hands and food to minimize the risk of infection.

Written by Mark Shipps Jr.

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Works Consulted:

Associated Press. “St. Louis E. coli investigation focuses on grocery salad bars; as many as 33 people affected.”Washington Post. 01 Nov 2011. Web. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/st-louis-e-coli-investigation-focuses-on-grocery-salad-bars-as-many-as-33-people-affected/2011/11/01/gIQAkuaQdM_story.html>.

Associated Press. “Number of St. Louis-Area E. Coli Cases at 26.” Fox News. 03 Nov 2011. Web. <http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/11/03/number-st-louis-area-e-coli-cases-at-26/>.

Marshall, Bonnie, and Stuart Levy. “Food Animals and Antimicrobials: Impacts on Human Health.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews. 24.4 (2011). Web. 6 Nov. 2011. <http://cmr.asm.org/content/24/4/718.full>.

Nordqvist, Christian. “What Is E. Coli? (Escherichia Coli).” Medical News Today. 08 June 2011. Web. <http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/68511.php>.

Smith, Tyler. “Not-So-Breaking News: Misuse of Antimicrobials Threatens Public Health.” Center for a Livable Future. 12 Oct 2011. Web. <http://www.livablefutureblog.com/2011/10/not-so-breaking-news>.

Weise, Elizabeth. “Cantaloupe listeria outbreak most deadly since 1924.” USA Today. 03 Nov 2011. Web. <http://yourlife.usatoday.com/fitness-food/safety/story/2011-11-03/Cantaloupe-listeria-outbreak-most-deadly-since-1924/51064012/1>.

Wikipedia contributors. “List of foodborne illness outbreaks in the United States .” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_foodborne_illness_outbreaks_in_the_United_States>.

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