E. Coli Outbreaks Underscore Dangers Of Contaminated Produce

| by Nicholas Roberts
E. Coli Bacteria.E. Coli Bacteria.

Roughly 1 in 6 Americans, or about 48 million, become ill each year after eating contaminated food.

Kayla Brandon, a journalist for Independent Journal, shared a recent food poisoning experience, in which she initially believed she had a 24-hour bug, but discovered after visiting a doctor that she was infected with E. coli bacteria.  

Brandon's doctor told her it was likely grapes that caused the bacteria to proliferate.  

Brandon's case underscores the dangers of contaminated food in the U.S., produce in particular.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies various sizes of foodborne illness outbreaks: local, state/regional, and nationwide. Contaminated produce is implicated as being a lesser cause of hospitalizations and deaths than contaminated beef, cheese, eggs and fish, according to the CDC's data.

But produce from one source can be easily shipped to another state, and lead to a multi-state outbreak.

This may be what recently occurred at Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington. On Nov. 1, Jonathan Modie, an official from the Oregon Public Health Division said the bacterial outbreak and subsequent closure of 43 restaurants in the two states was likely caused by contaminated produce, reports USA Today.

"We are looking at everything but our epidemiology investigation is guiding us toward produce," said Modie. 

"Chipotle has meat products, but based on things we heard from people  who got sick ... it seems like the most common denominator is some kind of vegetable course."

As of Nov. 24, investigators still suspect a produce or other nonmeat food item as the cause of the outbreak, but a safety detective at the CDC says there are "significant challenges" in determining the source, according to Reuters.

In the meantime, a new outbreak of E. coli bacteria linked to chicken salad sold in Costco has infected people in Washington, Montana, Utah, California, Missouri, Colorado and Virginia, KATU reports.  

This strain of E. coli is said to be more life-threatening than the strain that affected the Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington.

Whenever eating conventional or organic produce, wash it thoroughly.

Sources: Independent Journal, CDC, USA Today, Reuters, KATU / Photo credit: NIH/Flickr