This was initially reported in the press last week. On June 18, the Michigan Department of Community Health noted a sharp increase in E. coli cases for the month of June. Normally reports for this time of year average 10 per month. By the time of the press release, there were 29 cases and many lab tests indicated a link. Ground meat was the suspected source.
The following day, the Detroit Free Press reported a link between cases in Michigan and Ohio but no source had been identified. Today, the Free Press is reporting that Health Departments in Michigan and Ohio have traced some of the infections to contaminated ground beef sold in Kroger stores.
Accompanying most of these stories are warnings to thoroughly cook hamburgers. Its summertime, lots of people are grilling. Foodborne illnesses go way up in the summer, on a local scale. Going to a neighborhood block party, you’ll be exposed to pathogens from every person’s kitchen. Presuming they keep a clean kitchen, you still have to worry about undercooked meat and mayo that’s been sitting out too long.
E. coli is not one bacterium, its actually a group of bugs that vary in intensity. Most cases of food poisoning come from E. Coli O157:H7. Symptoms vary from a little “stomach bug” or the “24 hour flu” to severe diarrhea, vomiting and a mid-grade fever. For some, particularly children, the elderly and those with suppressed immune systems, E. coli infection can progress to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This complication occurs in approximately 5-10% of those with E. coli infections. Symptoms include decreased frequency of urination, feeling very tired, and losing pink color in cheeks and inside the lower eyelids. Persons with HUS should be hospitalized because their kidneys may stop working and they may develop other serious problems.
E. coli is spread in animal waste, including human waste! Besides not licking a cow’s butt, you might want to think about washing your hands often when near animals or handling raw meat, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. Consider also not drinking the water from the kid’s pool.
If you want to keep E. coli from your ground meat products- you might want to buy your own steaks and grind it yourself. Or buy from a market that does the on-site grinding fresh when you request it. This does not eliminate the chance of taking home some “extras” in your burgers but it does help. In large animal processing operations, a lot of mess is made when the cows come to slaughter. Its not always easy to keep all the waste products from the carcass so even a gorgeous t-bone can be contaminated with the microscopic critters.
And seriously, if you don’t know the quality or source of that burger, you ought to be sure its cooked thoroughly. Save the medium rare or grill-kissed for a steak.
For more info on E. Coli please visit the CDC’s website, here.