In recent months, outbreaks caused by Escherichia coli have increased (Ireland, Scotland, etc.). Recently, in France, pizzas contaminated by this bacterium affected 56 people─ including 55 small children─ and caused two deaths.
This bacterium is naturally present in our digestive microflora. Although most strains of E. coli are harmless to humans, others can cause infections or carry antibiotic resistance genes. Among the pathogenic strains, shigatoxigenic E. coli is responsible for serious infections in children and the elderly.
Ruminants, especially cattle, are healthy carriers of these bacteria. Therefore, the bacteria present in their excrement can contaminate animal products (meat and dairy) and the environment (soil and water). Contamination occurs, for example, in the meat slaughterhouse (through the remains or after the evisceration of the animals) or at the time of milking the milk of cattle, sheep or goats.
With regard to plants, this contamination can occur during the spreading of manure or livestock effluents on farmland, or during the use of contaminated irrigation water.
The main foods implicated in outbreaks of shigatoxigenic E. coli infections are undercooked minced beef, non-pasteurized dairy products (raw milk and raw milk cheeses), raw vegetables (salad, young shoots, sprouts), unpasteurized fruits or vegetables and contaminated drinking water .
Throughout the food chain, the management of this risk is based on the application of effective self-controls and the verification of the effectiveness of the measures implemented.
With regard to the consumer, the prevention of infections through food is based on the application of the following measures:
- Wash hands with soap and water when leaving the toilet, before preparing and eating food, and after handling raw or non-raw food.
- Wash and peel the vegetables, if possible; and also fruits and aromatic herbs, especially those that are eaten raw.
- For sensitive populations (young children and the elderly), thoroughly cook ground meat and ground meat products (70°C), avoid consumption of raw milk and raw milk products (except for cooked pressed cheeses), and of raw or undercooked flour.