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American Foods Group announced a recall of 96,000 pounds of ground beef. This announcement is all too familiar here in the US this year. Earlier this fall the company, Topps recalled over 21 million pounds of beef that ultimately made several people ill. The cause of these recalls is that these foods are contaminated with the bacteria E. coli 0157: H7 or Escherichia coli.

This bacterium is a leading cause of food borne illness here in the US. Over the years it has caused tens of thousands of cases of infection and hundreds of deaths. The organism can be found on most cattle farms, and it is commonly found in petting zoos and can live in the intestines of healthy cattle, deer, goats, and sheep. Meat can become contaminated during slaughter, and organisms can be accidentally mixed into meat when it is ground.
Contaminated meat looks and smells normal and that is why the most important way to prevent infection is by thoroughly cooking ground beef. It only takes a small amount of bacteria to make someone sick.

In addition to meat, bacteria can also be present on other sources such as sprouts, lettuce, spinach, salami, unpasteurized milk and juice, and by swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water. Always wash your hands well before preparing or eating various foods and wash your fruits and vegetable especially well.

The symptoms of E. coli take between two to eight days to make someone ill after being exposed the bacteria; however the average is 3-4 days. The infection usually causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Sometimes the infection causes non-bloody diarrhea or no symptoms. Usually little or no fever is present, and the illness resolves in 5 to 10 days. In children and the elderly, the infection can cause complications with kidney failure and this usually happens in about 8% of all cases. It is also wise if you suspect you have this infection, see your doctor immediately for a test that will confirm the diagnosis.

The following E. coli prevention tips are from the Centers for Disease Control:

· Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly. Because ground beef can turn brown before disease-causing bacteria are killed, use a digital instant-read meat thermometer to ensure thorough cooking. Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 160º F · If you are served an undercooked hamburger or other ground beef product in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking. You may want to ask for a new bun and a clean plate, too · Avoid spreading harmful bacteria in your kitchen. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods. Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat. Never place cooked hamburgers or ground beef on the unwashed plate that held raw patties.
· Wash fruits and vegetables under running water, especially those that will not be cooked. Be aware that bacteria are sticky, so even thorough washing may not remove all contamination. Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables. Children under 5 years of age and persons at high risk of complications from food borne illness may choose to consume cooked vegetables and peeled fruits.
· Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider. Commercial juice with an extended shelf-life that is sold at room temperature (e.g. juice in cardboard boxes, vacuum sealed juice in glass containers) has been pasteurized, although this is generally not indicated on the label. Juice concentrates are also heated sufficiently to kill pathogens.
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