Today the CDC reported that 96 people have been infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O103 in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia. Illnesses started on dates from March 2, 2019, to March 26, 2019. Ill people range in age from 1 to 81 years, with a median age of 17. Fifty-one percent are female. Of 67 people with information available, 11 (16%) have been hospitalized. Thus far no common food item has been determined, leaving the consuming public with less than full knowledge on how to protect themselves and their families.
General Advice During an E. coli Outbreak
- Be especially careful during “unsolved” outbreaks. Until health officials have the facts, do not assume anything about the source of an ongoing outbreak.
- Educate yourself about foodborne illness. Resources about coli and other foodborne pathogens are widely available online.
Eating at Home During an E. coli Outbreak
- WASH YOUR HANDS! This is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick.
- Until the outbreak is solved avoid foods and drinks that are not fully cooked. This is especially true for the most vulnerable – small children, the elderly or immune-compromised individuals.
- At the grocery store, keep raw meat – especially beef or chicken – separate from “ready to eat” food. Also, get your food into the refrigerator or freezer sooner rather than later.
- Keep your counters and kitchen clean and your refrigerator clean and set at the correct temperature. Keeping “hot things hot” and “cold things cold” will help control bacterial growth.
Dining Out During an E. coli Outbreak
- Before ordering anything, WASH YOUR HANDS. If a restaurant’s wash rooms are not clean and/or readily available with hot water and liquid soap, don’t eat there.
- Research the restaurant before you go. Check with the local health department to see if the restaurant you are interested in has a good safety record, avoid restaurants with multiple critical health violations or closures for failure to correct them.
- Ask the restaurant about its own food safety policies. Quality restaurants will gladly provide you with their food safety policies and plan, especially if you call the manager during non-peak hours.
- Do not accept menu or service mistakes. These can be signs there is that food is being improperly handled or prepared. Restaurants should keep “hot things hot” and “cold things cold.”
- Ask questions, especially about the restaurant’s food suppliers. As consumers, you have the right to know if a restaurant is getting items such as meat and poultry from vendors that test for bacterial contaminants.
- Leave small children at home and be extremely careful when dining out with the elderly or immune-compromised individuals. Small children are especially susceptible to the deadly effects of foodborne pathogens. Next to small children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to foodborne illness.
- Avoid restaurants that invite “cross contamination.” Certain restaurants are “designed” to spread disease. Self-serve cafeteria-style outlets where customers may not have washed their hands before touching common serving utensils should be avoided.
- Bottom line – if you are going to eat out, eat well cooked items and avoid uncooked items – like fresh fruits and vegetables until health authorities give an “All Clear.”
If You Become Ill with E. coli
- If you become ill – especially if you suffer bloody diarrhea – seek immediate medical attention.
In General – Foods to Avoid
- Raw Milk
- Raw Juice
- Raw Sprouts
- Raw Meat
- Pre-washed or Precut Fruits
- Pre-washed or Precut Vegetables
- Raw or Undercooked Eggs
- Raw Oysters and other Raw Shellfish
- Raw Water
- Uncooked Flour