E Coli: Keeping it Safe

Stay safe by following best practices

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) While the scope of the E. coli outbreak in Europe continues to develop, many in the United States are pondering food safety. So far, there has been no reason to believe an outbreak might immediately occur in the US.

But that doesn't mean precautions are not warranted.

Whole Foods Market, a natural and organic grocery chain with more than 300 retail grocery stores in the United States and the United Kingdom, receives a very small percentage of its overall offering from Europe, but Whole Foods Market spokeswoman Libba Letton said they are still taking precautions.

"Wash your hands and refrigerate leftovers to avoid food borne illness."

"We're watching the situation and keeping in close contact with vendors in Europe," said Letton.

Letton said the store sells organic red bell peppers from Holland and that some regional stores order individual items. For example a Whole Foods Market in New York carries mushrooms from France. But overwhelmingly a limited amount of produce was shipped in from Europe, believed to be the source of the E coli outbreak that has so far sickened hundreds.

She also noted that the chain's grocery stores feature prominent labels on produce that let consumers know the origin country so that they can make their own decisions on what they feel comfortable purchasing.

"So if someone feels uncomfortable buying something we can usually recommend something else," Letton said.

The US Centers for Disease Control recommends several steps for consumers to protect themselves from food borne illness.

* Keep it clean --  Always wash produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water to remove dirt, and remove the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.Because bacteria grows well on the cut surface of fruit or vegetable, be careful not to contaminate these foods while slicing them up on the cutting board, and avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for many hours. Never prepare food without first washing your hands with soap and never cook for others if you have a diarrheal illness. Avoid changing diapers while cooking.

* Separate foods - Do not cross-contaminate foods with each other. Avoid cross-contaminating foods by washing hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food. Keep cooked and raw meat separate.

* Cook thoroughly - Make sure meat, poultry, and eggs are thoroughly cooked. Use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature to make sure food is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria: 145°F for whole meats, 160°F for ground meats, and 165°F for all poultry. Cook eggs until the yolk is firm.

* Cool properly - Refrigerate leftovers quickly (within four hours) since bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature. Large volumes of food cool faster if divided into several shallow containers for refrigeration.

* Report if suspicious - Report suspected food borne illnesses to the local health department, an important part of the food safety system. Many times calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected. Always cooperate with health officials as they talk to both healthy and ill people during investigations.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 3, 2011
Last Updated:
June 5, 2011