How does E .coli get into my kitchen? Whether it is your home or your work it happens pretty much the same way. E. coli is a germ that lives in the intestines of cows that help it digest its food. Unfortunately, E. coli is harmful to humans. To be clear the muscles we consume are not contaminated while the cow is alive. During the slaughtering process the germ from the cows intestines can be spread to the surface of the meat. It is inevitable, meat will occasionally have E.coli but the solution is simple. When meat is cooked correctly the germ can be killed. Also, prevent the spread of the germ in your kitchen by separating meats from ready to eat foods and food contact surfaces.
I think that most of you already knew this simple fact. Raw meat has germs so we cook it. But did you know this? You are just as likely to get sick from contaminated fruits and vegetables. The problem is within the food system. The way we raise the cattle contaminates the water, soil and air used to grow the produce. Until 2011 there has been very little regulation to test soil, water, equipment or farm workers. Until this new law that has been passed, known as the Food Safety Modernization Act(FSMA), we have been using regulation(FDC 1938) that was designed to feed far fewer Americans than we have today. This FSMA is still not fully funded or complete. The best thing you can do to keep your produce safe is to wash it correctly. It is also important to get your produce from a reputable source.
Now that you know that it is on our meat and produce there is one more thing to be aware of. When a human is infected they may carry the disease for up to a year after the symptoms have passed. This person may have never sought medical attention for a variety of reasons and never knew they had E.coli. If this person is not being hygienic they can spread the germs through their feces(see my article on hand washing). This is especially dangerous as a food worker who is handling the food of many people. So if an employee is symptomatic get them out of the facility and always practice good personal hygiene.
E. coli isn’t going anywhere, it’s a natural part of things. But, with a little information and a little effort we can cut down on the incidences of illness. Remember, there is a lot on the line besides a little diarrhea. This could mean your business and unfortunately for some it could cost their lives.