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Since the beginning of the year, 26 cases of serious infections linked to Escherichia coli bacteria have been reported and 2 children have died hemolytic uremic syndrome, due to this bacterium. How to prevent this infection and what foods should be monitored?

Escherichia coli bacteria (or coli bacteria) are normally intestinal bacteria that are harmless to humans when they remain confined to the digestive tract. They are found in large quantities in the stools of humans but also in those of ruminants.

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The 10 rules to follow to avoid food poisoning

However, when cows, calves, goats, sheep eliminate bacteria in their excrement, they can contaminate the environment (water, manure, soil) and food. And while this strain of E.coli is absolutely not pathogenic for animals, it can be responsible for serious disorders in humans.

Escherichia coli: what am I at risk?

The disorders range from mild diarrhea to more serious forms, such as hemorrhagic diarrhea and severe kidney damage called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). Infections mainly affect young children, especially under 5 years of age, the elderly and immunocompromised people who ingest contaminated food (whether undercooked meat, poorly cleaned vegetables or raw dough).

Each year, around 140 cases of haemolytic and uraemic syndrome are recorded in France,” underlines the National Food Safety Agency (Anses).

In France, the foods most often implicated during outbreaks of EHEC infections are: burgerseaten raw or undercooked, and cheeses from unpasteurised milk. As flour may also be contaminated, the consumption of raw or undercooked pizza dough caused an outbreak in 2022.

How does the bacterium become a killer bacterium?

In strains of pathogenic bacteria, there is a toxin, called Shiga toxin, which acts on a receptor present on the surface of human cells. The enterohaemorrhagic Escherica coli bacterium is not pathogenic for ruminants because they do not have this specific receptor. But when the bacterium enters humans through the oral route, then into their intestine, it multiplies and produces the toxin. Bloody diarrhea ensues and passage of the toxin into the kidney, with, in 5 to 8% of cases, destruction of red blood cells and the occurrence of renal failure.

Escherichia coli: how to prevent the risks?

When preparing meals, it is possible to prevent risks by respecting the rules of hygiene and consumption of certain foods:

  • Wash one’s hands with soap when leaving the toilet, before preparing and eating meals, and after handling raw or uncooked foodstuffs.
  • Carefully wash and peel, if possible, vegetables, fruits and aromatic herbs, especially those eaten raw.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked foods intended to be eaten cooked.
  • Store raw foods separately from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Respect certain freezing rules (we list them here).
  • Kitchen utensils and worktops should be thoroughly washed, especially when they have previously come into contact with raw meat.
  • Contact of very young children (under 5 years old) with cows, calves, sheep, goats, deer, etc., and their environment should be avoided. In case of contact with these animals, hand washing must be systematic.

In video: 5 tips to avoid food poisoning

Source :E. coli food infections: how to protect more consumers? ANSES, June 2023

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The raw dough
Never eat raw cookie or cookie dough, or any flour-based pastry or pizza preparations that are meant to be baked.

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Raw milk cheeses
Raw milk, cheeses made from raw milk and dairy products made from raw milk should not be consumed by children under 5 years of age. Prefer cheeses made from pasteurized milk or melted spreads.

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leafy vegetables
Leafy vegetables such as lettuce, which are most often eaten raw, must be carefully washed before consumption, after peeling if necessary.

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Aromatic herbs
The E.coli bacterium is often present in aromatic herbs. It is not uncommon for trays of frozen herbs to be recalled because this bacterium is resistant to cold. It is therefore important to wash them well before consumption.

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Untreated water
Children should not drink untreated water (well water, torrent, etc.) and avoid swallowing it when swimming in lakes and ponds.

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