It’s summertime! Is there anything more refreshing for lunch or dinner than a big, cool salad? It’s a staple at our house, especially when it’s hot as the dickens outside, however, you really need to be careful with that summer salad, and we don’t mean choosing a low-fat dressing.
Most people think food poisoning only happens with meat or eggs, but this isn’t the case. In fact, in early July of 2016, two people have actually died and more than 151 became very ill after eating a salad that had E. coli 0157. Health authorities are trying to track down the actual source , but at this time they know that at least several people ate mixed green salads that contained rocket leaves (sometimes called arugula). Researchers believe that, after using whole genome sequencing, that the bacteria appears to be an imported strain, more commonly found in the Mediterranean areas.
Isn’t E.Coli From Meat?
Many people think that E. coli comes from meat or, to be more specific, meat that is contaminated with poop after the animal has been slaughtered. While this is true, E. coli is also found in soil where animals (and people) defecate. It can also be passed on from human hands to all kinds of foods.
- coli can get on the udder of a cow and be transferred to the milk. This is why it is inadvisable to drink raw milk. Unfortunately, even if cows are separated from crops, the runoff from rain can drain into fields. Leafy greens, such as rocket leaves, spinach, and all types of lettuce, are particularly vulnerable.
Both human and animal poop can pollute water sources as well. Although most public water systems use some type of method to kill E. coli, private wells and rural water supplies have been known to be contaminated.
There are many different strains of E.Coli, some only causing diarrhea, but some are powerful toxins which damage the lining of the small intestine and kidney’s. This particular strain, 0157, is one of the most dangerous.
Is This Happening Only in England?
No, this also happens in the US. One of the more recent cases you might have heard about was in late 2015, when at least 45 people were infected after eating at Chipotle restaurants. More than 16 people were hospitalized. The root cause was undetermined, but affected locations were closed, all food thrown out, and restaurants sanitized.
Another case occurred in late 2013 when a company that made prepared chicken salad recalled their products after 26 people became infected with E.coli. While chicken is rarely contaminated, the source of this outbreak was also undetermined.
Should I Stop Eating Salads for Awhile?
Although you probably eat more salads during the summer, there really is no need to stop eating them as contamination can occur at any time of the year.
To avoid becoming infected, follow these steps:
- Wash your hands frequently, including after using the toilet, before handling and eating food, after touching animals, or after working in the garden.
- Wash off loose soil (if there is any) before you put vegetables or salads in the refrigerator.
- Carefully wash all fruits and veggies, especially those that will be eaten raw.
- Store and prepare unwashed vegetables away from other foods.
- Do not prepare raw vegetables with the same utensils that were used for raw meat.
- If you have been sick, do not prepare food for anyone until you have been without symptoms for 48 hours.
- Consider using a dip method for cleaning hard to clean vegetables, such as lettuce or Swiss chard, rather than rely on hand washing.
- If you buy bagged salads, always check the expiration date.
- Even if vegetables or prepackaged salads claim to be “washed” or “ready to eat”, you should wash them again to be certain.
- Keep all greens and vegetables refrigerated.
- Regularly rinse cutting boards with bleach and hot water.
You might also want to keep track of recalls or news regarding possible E.coli or salmonella outbreaks. For example, if spinach has been suspected at the heart of an outbreak, you might want to throw out any spinach in the fridge and wait a few weeks before buying more. Better safe than sick or dead!