E. Coli Prevention | Nutrition

This is a dirty problem we have on our hands. According to the center for science in the public interest, in the U.S. alone, there are 76 million--thatís right, million-- illnesses due to food borne pathogens each year, and five thousands deaths. That means roughly one in four of us get sick from our food each year. Less than heart-healthy foods are what we come to expect from many fast food chains. But life-threatening bacteriaÖ No.

The fact is, did Taco Bell draw the short straw this time as the recipient of what is believe to be a bad, contaminated batch of onions? Both Taco Bell and its customers relied upon a food supply to be safe to consume. Dr. Sunil Sood, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital, says, "As for the average person going to a restaurant, you have to trust the system that supplies the food to that restaurant that everything is being done, local and governmental to insure the safety of our food supply. It is far from perfect at the present time."

 A new report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit group, points a big finger at the Food and Drug Administration. The report notes that food regulated by the FDA, such as seafood and produce, were associated with more than twice as many outbreaks as foods regulated by the department of agriculture, which includes meat and poultry. Indeed, while E. Coli originates in beef, beef is not the biggest problem today. 

 "Any food that originates from a farm setting, which of course is mostly produce, can be contaminated with this bacteria. So, in the last 5 years or so that the CDC has had good information for an equal number has been produce, vegetarian foods as opposed to beef," states Dr. Sood. Dr. Sood outlined three goals for food safety. The first goal is to prevent cattle feces from contaminating other food.

The second would be at the level of the food distributors, because now the way food distributors are handled , they get food from multiple sources, package them in a plant, for example it can come from California, and be packaged in Pennsylvania. The third level of course is the level of consumers. If itís in the case of eating in a restaurant you have no control of how it was handled at the restaurant level. Certainly, you can check a restaurantís cleanliness rating, but rarely will that play into this issue.

So, thereí's not much that you can do about this. "There is no preventive measure at the personal level," comments Dr. Sood. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says, "outbreaks occur in part because of inadequate regulatory authority, inadequate monitoring, and inadequate funding." The CSPI says half of the states do not follow national standards to track disease outbreaks. Dr. Sood says food irradiation would be the absolute fix, but thatís not being done on a widespread basis.


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