Canada’s Public Health Agency is investigating an outbreak of E. col O157:H7 possibly linked to leafy greens (lettuces, kale, spinach, arugula or chard). According to a statement released by the agency on Wednesday, there are currently 12 people sickened in four provinces (Alberta, 9; Saskatchewan, 1; Ontario, 1, and Newfoundland and Labrador, 1). Illness onset dates range from March 13-31, 2015. The agency indicated that no specific food product had yet been identified as the source and that the investigation is continuing in collaboration with federal and provincial public health officials. When and if the source is identified, the agency will inform the public and make sure that the contaminated product is promptly removed from the marketplace. E. coli are bacteria that live naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals. Most E. coli are harmless to humans, but some varieties carry genes that allow them to cause illness. While most people sickened by E. coli experience a few days of upset stomach and then fully recover, infections can be serious and sometimes be life-threatening, especially for the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and those whose immune systems are compromised. People infected with E. coli can have a wide range of symptoms. Some do not get sick at all, though they can still spread the infection to others. Others feel as though they have a bad case of upset stomach. Still others become seriously ill and must be hospitalized. The following symptoms can appear within one to 10 days after contact with the bacteria: severe stomach cramps, watery or bloody diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, headache and slight fever. The risk to the general public is low from this outbreak, the Canadian officials said, and they reminded people to follow safe food-handling practices to avoid illness. The following tips will help reduce the risk of infection with E. coli or other foodborne illnesses:
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them, clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.
- Bacteria can grow in the danger zone between 40 degrees F to 140 degrees F. Keep cold foods cold at or below 40 degrees F and keep hot foods hot at or above 140 degrees F.
- Keep refrigerators clean and at a temperature below 40 degrees F. Install a thermometer in your refrigerator to be sure.
- Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Use containers that are large enough to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other food or touching other food.
- Keep raw food away from other food while shopping, storing, preparing and serving foods.
- Read labels and follow cooking and storage instructions for all food. When buying food, make sure to check the “best before” date, and if the product has expired, let the store know.
- Use warm soapy water to clean knives, cutting boards, utensils, your hands and any surfaces that have come in contact with food, especially meat and fish.
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of cooking.
- Freeze or consume leftovers within four days of cooking. Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot before eating.