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A spotlight on E.coli

In recent years, several cases of foodborne illness across Australia have been traced back to outbreaks of Escherichia coli or, as it is most commonly known, E.coli. The good news is that cases of E.coli were on the decline in 2020 with 315 cases compared to 329 in 2019. However, it should be noted that these case numbers are still higher than the previous 5-year average, and individuals should be vigilant with regards to the risks of E.coli infections and other foodborne illnesses.

What is E.coli?

E.coli is a form of bacteria that is often present in the intestines of humans and animals. In fact, E.coli is often harmless and even aids digestion. However, particular strains of the bacteria can be more harmful than others and have been known to make those who ingest them severely unwell. One such strain is the Shiga Toxin-producing E.coli (STEC) which has the potential to damage the lining of the small intestine. Symptoms of STEC infection include stomach cramps and abdominal pains, diarrhoea, fatigue, vomiting, nausea and a low fever. Other variants of the STEC strain can also cause infection but often do not lead to complications. Members of the public who may be particularly vulnerable to E.coli infection include the elderly, individuals who are immunocompromised, pregnant people and children.

What causes E.coli infection?

Food that is handled unsafely anywhere from in the home or at the grocery store or in restaurants can become contaminated and cause foodborne illness. Common reasons for foodborne illness are:

  • Failure to wash hands thoroughly before preparing food.
  • Contaminated commercial kitchen supplies from improper cleaning.
  • Consumption of dairy products and other food that has been stored inside the food temperature danger zone for too long.
  • Consumption of foods that are not fully cooked. Meat and poultry pose a particular risk.
  • Consumption of raw seafood products including sushi.
  • Consumption of unpasteurised dairy products such as milk and cheese.
  • Eating poorly washed fresh produce.
  • Drinking or swimming in contaminated water.
  • Working closely with livestock such as sheep, cows and goats.

How to avoid E.coli infection

E.coli can be avoided by practising vigilance around food preparation, consumption and personal hygiene. Chefs and kitchen managers should wash their hands regularly and thoroughly and use sterilised commercial kitchen supplies when preparing meals. Food safety posters should be placed next to food thermometers to detail the correct minimum internal temperature for each kind of meat before serving. Place food safety posters around the kitchen to remind kitchen staff to wash their hands thoroughly before preparing food to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Fildes Food Safety offers a wide range of commercial kitchen supplies designed to help chefs and commercial kitchen managers implement sustainable food safety practices and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses. Visit our website to place an order or get in touch with your Fildes Food Safety representative.

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