What is Escherichia coli 0157?
The bacterium E.coli is found in the gut of humans and most warm blooded animals. Generally, the strains that live in the human bowel are harmless. 0157 is a rare serotype 0157 of E.Coli which can cause outbreaks of diarrhoea. This illness can be particularly severe in vulnerable groups such as the old and the young and for those who are taking certain medicines.
Where does it come from?
E.coli is usually associated with raw meats and now also with vegetables and some salads such as lettuce. Fortunately, the E.coli bacteria is easily dealt with provided that good hygiene practices are maintained. E.coli 0157 is found in the gut of cattle and perhaps other animals used in the production of food. Therefore, raw foods of animal origin, (such as beef and cow’s milk) may be contaminated with this organism via faecal contact during the slaughtering or milking process.
What are the clinical symptoms of infection?
E.coli infections are associated with a range of illnesses in humans, from bloody diarrhoea to the more serious Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) which is characterised by anaemia and kidney failure.
How do you prevent and control it in foods?
It is unlikely the numbers of E.coli 0157 entering the food chain will ever be reduced to zero, so possible sources of infection will remain in commercial and domestic kitchens. A better understanding of the need to prevent cross contamination and to cook foods properly to kill any bacteria present would significantly reduce illness caused by E.coli 0157. Detailed below are 10 main check points which should be followed in your kitchen.
- Ensure that your raw meat preparation area is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before work starts. Remember to use a detergent solution to clean surfaces before you disinfect and use a food grade disinfectant made up to the recommended concentration. Keep your raw meat area separate from any area where cooked meats or other foods which will not undergo a cooking process (example: ham, cheese and salads) are handled. Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw meat.
- Ensure any vegetables or salads are thoroughly washed in clean drinking water. Pay particular attention to any which will be prepared and eaten raw.
- E.coli and most other food poisoning bacteria are easily destroyed by cooking. Always ensure that the core temperature of food being cooked reaches 75°C.
- Make sure your cooking equipment can achieve these temperatures consistently. Be particularly careful if using a microwave oven as these often leave cool spots in the food.
- Use a probe thermometer to check the core temperature of a sample of the food you are cooking. It is a good idea to keep a record of this. Remember to clean and disinfect the thermometer between uses and check its accuracy regularly.
- Cooked food, which will not be served straight away or kept hot, must be cooled as rapidly as possible and then refrigerated in order to discourage growth of bacteria. Always cool food sufficiently so that it may be safely placed in a refrigerator within 90 minutes. Check your fridge with a thermometer to ensure the temperature is less than 8°C.
- Keep any area for handling cooked foods, or foods which will not undergo a cooking process, thoroughly clean and disinfected. Do not allow any cross contamination from raw food handling areas.
- Always wash your hands before handling cooked foods or foods which will not undergo a cooking process.
- Never allow raw foods or any other product, utensil or surface which could cause cross contamination to come into contact with cooked foods or foods which will not undergo a cooking process. Remember, protective clothing can also be a major source of cross contamination. Always ensure that any utensil or surface is kept thoroughly clean and disinfected.
- Avoid reheating of food. If this must be done, ensure that the heating is rapid and thorough. The food temperature should be checked with a thermometer and be at least 75°C. Food to be held for later consumption, (such as in a hot display), must be kept above at least 63°C.
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