E. Coli food poisoning outbreak in Germany
As you are probably aware there is currently a serious E. coli (Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) 0104) food poisoning outbreak occurring in Germany. The outbreak in Germany is unusual in that it is affecting adults (88% aged over 20), especially women (70%) and this outbreak does not appear to be related to the consumption of red meat, which is usually implicated.
At present over 1500 people are thought to have been infected, with 17 deaths and over 400 people in a critical condition due to the kidney-damaging haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) associated with this particular type of bacteria.
At the moment the cause of the outbreak is uncertain, initial suggestions that it was linked to salad vegetables has not been confirmed despite extensive microbiological testing. Testing of a wide range of foods is taking place in an attempt to identify the cause of the outbreak. The World Health Organisation has suggested that it may be a new strain that is “more virulent and toxin-producing”.
The advice from German authorities, particularly in the area affected, is that people avoid eating raw tomatoes, cucumbers and leafy salads. If you are travelling to Germany in the near future you should ensure that you follow this advice as it is not known if the outbreak has yet peaked. Anyone returning from Germany with symptoms including bloody diarrhoea should seek urgent medical attention.
The Food Standards Agency is continually monitoring the situation in Germany and reminds us of the basic food hygiene procedures that should be practiced. The FSA confirms that there is no evidence that produce from possible sources identified so far has been distributed to the UK.
There have been a number of food poisoning outbreaks in the past where the cause was identified as contaminated soft fruit or vegetables, the bacteria in these cases was identified as Salmonella, this outbreak is unusual in that it involves E. coli. Shiga toxin producing E. Coli is found in the guts of animals, especially cattle, sheep and goats, it is transmitted to humans via the faecal-oral route through contact with animals or their faeces, contaminated food or water or person to person contact with infected persons. In a number of cases in this outbreak there appears to have been transmission within households following an initial infection.
Controls you should have in place
Know where your food is coming from, if a problem is identified with a particular supplier or producer you need to know if it affects you.
It is important to ensure that fruit and vegetables are washed and/or peeled wherever possible to reduce any potential bacterial load.
Ensure surfaces and equipment such as knives are cleaned and disinfected after use.
Hands must be washed effectively and at the correct times, especially after going to the toilet and before handling ready to eat foods.
Clearly, news is changing frequently on this. We will, of course keep monitoring the situation and let you know of any significant changes as necessary.