E.coli outbreak: is salad to blame?

Author: talkhealth

Date: JUL 2016

E.coli is sweeping the nation, with over 150 Brits being struck down by food poisoning, and a further 2 being killed by infection. The illness, which is commonly caused by eating contaminated food, touching infected animals or coming into contact with people with the illness, has claimed victims in England, Scotland and Wales.

E.coli is a bacterial infection, most commonly known as ‘food poisoning’, which can cause stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and extreme fatigue. In more extreme cases people will experience severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhoea, and kidney failure.

Although representatives at Public Health England have not offered a definitive answer for the cause of the outbreak, a common connection between the victims has been identified. Mixed salad leaves, such as rocket and baby spinach frequently bought in supermarkets and marked as ‘ready to eat’, were eaten by the majority of those affected prior to falling sick.

Due to the fact that the time in which people usually notice symptoms of the illness can vary from person to person, narrowing down an exact cause can be difficult. On average, those affected usually experience symptoms of the illness between three to four days after they have been infected, but symptoms can start any time between one and 14 days after ingesting the bacteria and can last up to two weeks.

Due to the rarity and severity of E.coli O157 compared with other food-borne diseases, Public Health England has said that they ‘have triggered heightened surveillance and are carefully monitoring the situation across the UK.’1

To ensure you do everything possible to avoid falling sick with E.coli, please do take care when handling food and maintain good hygiene:

  • Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom.
  • Wash your hands properly before and after handling food, and ensure your kitchen workspace is disinfected before preparing food to avoid cross contamination.
  • If you have been ill or if you are beginning to feel unwell, try to avoid preparing food. Those who have been physically sick must wait 48 hours before attempting to prepare food for others.
  • Thoroughly wash all fruits, vegetables and salads before eating. Even those labelled as 'ready to eat'.
  • Take special care to wash vegetables and salads that will be eaten raw.
  • Store raw meat and unwashed vegetables separately, away from ready-to-eat foods.
  • When preparing food use fresh utensils for raw vegetables and meats.
  • All minced meat products, such as meatballs and burgers, must be cooked thoroughly.
  • Disinfect all surfaces in any areas the bacteria may have spread (i.e. bathroom, bedroom, living room)
  • Finally, do not handle food after handling animals.

Treatment for E.coli is limited. If you are experiencing symptoms commonly associate with E.coli, remember to stay indoors and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. You should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if you or your child experience bloody diarrhoea or are concerned about your symptoms in any way.

1. Public Health England, 2016.

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Next review: 25 July 2019