Since late May 2011, an outbreak of food-borne infections with a rare strain of the E. coli bacteria in Germany killed more than 20 people, sickened more than 2,300 and set off alarms that reverberated across Europe.
Although mostly those infected were those who traveled to northern Germany; the outbreak might have spread to every corner of the country (we live in the southern area) though, other regions have reported deaths due to E.coli. Those infected suffered from a potentially lethal complication attacking the kidneys, which can provoke comas, seizures and stroke.
When suspicion fell on cucumbers, tomatoes and various lettuce as possible sources of the bacteria (they have added bean sprouts a little later); I was one of those who veered away from those items, I also became suspicious of other veggies and fruits, in the supermarket especially those coming from a particular country. It was a little disappointing because the girls have just started experimenting with veggies and have accepted cucumbers, tomatoes and salad as part of our daily meals. We started harvesting from our backyard mini farm with rucola, spinach, etc. But our supply would not be enough so we got some from friends with backyard gardens, and visited our friendly country farmyards.
Last June 10, they finally lifted the ban on cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuces. Instead, officials confirmed that it was the bean sprouts that are the source of the germs. I am sure there would be more coming from this story but we simply needed the fresh veggies and fruits in our diet. What is the best thing to do but be informed, which would lead us to intelligent choices.
Since small kids are considered high-risk, I explained to the girls that there is a bacteria that is making people sick. They must always wash their hands before eating anything especially if they are outdoors in farms and petting zoos; and even in paddling pools or sandboxes.
Plus, we follow closely the recommendations of the health authorities:
- Cook meat sufficiently prior to consumption (at least 70°C)
- Boil raw milk prior to consumption
- Wash hands thoroughly with water and soap and dry carefully (at least before the preparation of food, after contact with animals or raw meat and before eating)
- Store and prepare raw meat separately from other foodstuffs, including the use of different chopping boards, plates, knives and tongs
- Clean thoroughly and dry surfaces and utensils immediately after contact with raw meat, its packaging or condensation water
- Replace as far as possible washcloths and towels after the preparation of raw meat and wash at a temperature of at least 60°C
- Peel or at least thoroughly wash raw vegetables and fruit before consumption.
The German leaflet "Schutz vor EHEC-Infektionen" is free-of-charge and can be ordered in writing from BfR.The symptoms of the bacteria includes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomachache.
And to be frank, we have also been very careful in washing all the veggies and fruits coming from our backyard garden (and those from the farm) if we are eating them raw. As for hygiene, the girls already practice very good hygiene when it comes to meals and handling food. But learning more about it would be more fun.