MSU E. coli outbreak: source identified

Just read on the Free Press website that health officials have identified large bags of iceberg lettuce as the source of the E. coli outbreak that first popped up at Michigan State University and was later seen scattered across the state:

The shredded and chopped lettuce was sold to restaurants and institutions from wholesalers, including Aunt Mid’s Produce Company of Detroit. Officials are still determining other wholesale sources of the contaminated lettuce. Bagged lettuce in grocery stores is not affected, they said.

The investigation will continue as the health department looks for the original source of the contamination. Its possible that other sellers of potentially contaminated lettuce will be identified. Retailers and institutions have been urged to remove any lettuce purchased from Aunt Mid’s from their stock.

One thing not mentioned here- I’ve seen Aunt Mid’s products in the stores. While a local grocery store may not carry these large bags, I do wonder if a bulk store would. Can’t hurt to check your fridge if you shop in those places.

MSU’s E. coli Outbreak- not just MSU

The little E. coli breakout that was originally thought to be limited to Michigan State University’s campus has now been linked with several sporadic cases across the state of Michigan including 5 cases at the Lenawee County Jail.

Health Department officials are continuing the traceback effort to find the source of the bacteria. According to an article at WLNS (Channel 6 in Lansing), the school has stopped serving turkey and has also looked in to lettuce being served at the time of the outbreak. With these other cases apppearing, the source is probably something from off-campus that is delivered to the school versus the alternative: a campus dining hall or equipment in the kitchen(s) was contaminated.

Although the number of cases has grown, it is expected that everyone afflicted with the infection will recover. E. coli O157:H7 is scary stuff. I’m probably repeating myself but seriously, you don’t want any disease where the mildest symptom is bloody diarrhea, right?

The idea that the same strain of E. coli showing up in the MSU cafeterias is also showing up in a jail is a little disconcerting. I will say this though: I ate at MSU cafeterias for 2 years. I worked in school cafes for 2 years. I certainly ate way too much fried chicken (seriously, serving it 3 times a week is just not right!) but I never felt like the food wasn’t safe or clean. I never got sick and we never had an investigation of our kitchens. As employees, we weren’t always perfect but we never served food that looked spoiled or that hadn’t been refrigerated. I washed my hands regularly and this was in the days before every employee in every restaurant is supposed to wear gloves to handle any food. I actually think this is ridiculous. You are less likely to notice cross-contamination if food is stuck to a glove than to your skin. Oh yeah, my job? Making pizzas- I had my fingers in cheese, meats, toppings and sauce for my entire shift most nights. But I digress.

In fact, most of my non-Spartan friends were jealous of the quality of dorm food at State. MSU has a reputation for serving top notch food in the dorms. I’m sure having a nationally recognized Hotel-Restaurant Management program helps. At U of M on the otherhand, there were a lot of jokes about green-tinged lunch meats and hamburger marked grade “D- Fit for Human Consumption.” The grading system is nonsense (and meat isn’t graded that way anyhow) but my few visits to a University of MIchigan dorm cafeteria left me grateful for my normal daily options.

The point is, I wouldn’t be afraid to eat in an MSU cafeteria. There are risks everyday with eating food but I’m much more concerned about the source of that product than what it might come across in the kitchens at Michigan State University.

E. coli Alert- Local Outbreak

Over this past weekend, a number of Michigan State University students were hospitilized with severe gastrointestinal issues. The school and Ingham County Health Department immediately began an investigation as all the students were on-campus residents.

Here in Lansing, a total of 10 cases were identified with seven students being hospitilized over the weekend. As no new cases have been reported since Friday, officials believe the outbreak may be over. However, as many people who have such symptoms- nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps- don’t seek medical attention, its possible more students were sick. Actually, its really possible more students were affected by this than will ever be known. Consider how likely one is to chalk-up a nasty stomache to too much cheap beer the night before (Schlitz’s Light Ice comes to mind- do they still make that stuff?).

Tests confirmed today that at least three of the illnesses were caused by E. coli O157:H7, the really bad version of E. coli.

The book, Fast Food Nation talks a lot about E. coli O157:H7. E. coli in general is found all over the place. It lives in your intestines, peacefully. But there are some rogue strains and O157:H7 is the mother of them all. Most outbreaks are associated with ground beef however, you can also get E. coli O157:H7 from unpasteurized milk, contact with contaminated water, eating contaminated vegetables and even from another infected human.

As of today, Thursday, at least 4 more cases have been identified. Health officials continue to investigate but have not identified a likely source. As noted above, the first batch of sick students were all campus residents. It would seem probable that the school cafeterias are the focus of the investigation. The MSU student ID is linked to an account for food purchases and cafeteria use. It shouldn’t take long to figure out if the students all ate in the same place but figuring out what they all ate could be more difficult.

A message from MSU: If you become ill or have been ill with gastrointestinal symptoms in the last 10 days, especially bloody diarrhea, seek care and notify the Ingham County Health Department at (517) 887-4308

School-issued releases:
Medical Alert from 9/15
Medical Update from 9/16
Medical Alert from 9/17

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