Talk about being an outcast! It’s like the cucumber and the bean sprout were part of the popular crowd and then some kid at school spread a nasty rumour about them having head lice and suddenly all the kids avoided them. Only, it’s not head lice, it’s a deadly E. coli bacteria, and it’s not kids, it’s government officials spreading this information. At the end of May a rare and toxic strain of E. coli started to make itself known in Germany and to date, 26 people have died from this outbreak. Thousands more have been infected, not only in Germany but in other European countries, the USA, and Canada. This is not a situation to be taken lightly as it involves one of the largest number of deaths from any E. coli outbreak.
Originally, the cucumber was suspected of causing the illness, and then when no evidence could be found to support that, the bean sprout found itself on the chopping block (also, no evidence has been found to convict the sprout). The tomato and lettuce was also suspected at one point. The scientific efforts and media coverage seem to all be focused on finding the vegetable that caused this damage. While I agree that having that information would be helpful, I feel that it is only part of the big picture and likely not the most important part. Here’s why I say that. VEGETABLES DON’T ACTUALLY MAKE E. COLI!! This is a really important part of the equation that is not being talked about. It’s time for some good ol’ fashion naked detective work to uncover what’s really going on here and what is the true cause of this problem. I’ll give you a hint… it has nothing to do with the cucumber or the sprout.
You might be thinking, as I was, if vegetables don’t make E. coli, then how the heck does it get all over them in the first place and then end up on our plate? Here is a story about a cow raised in a factory farm environment that should help shed some light on the subject.
Daisy the cow lives in a confined agricultural farming operation. Although she would thrive on eating grass in a pasteur and being able to roam around, she is denied those necessities. She is forced into close quarters and fed a diet of cheap corn and other bi-products. This allows her owner to cut costs and increase their profits. Since Daisy’s diet and living conditions are not healthy for her (picture a human never being able to leave the couch and being fed fast food burgers all day long), she is prone to sickness. As a preventative measure and a treatment protocol, Daisy is given large amounts of antibiotics. Not only does Daisy’s diet leave her susceptible to illness, it also leads to the increased production of E. coli bacteria in her gut. Poor Daisy. She then poops out these E. coli bacteria and the poo is washed away by ground water or collected to be used as manure for plant crops. Now Daisy’s poo that is full of E. coli is hanging out with the cucumbers, sprouts, and other various fruit/vegetable crops. It then get’s shipped to the supermarket, we purchase it, we don’t do a good enough job cleaning it, we ingest it, and we get sick.
As you can see from this story, the poor cucumber and bean sprout had little to do with all this madness. They are simply the middle man.
The real problems lie more with us humans than with the vegetables. The way we produce animal products is leading to more E. coli. Additionally, giving animals so many antibiotics can lead to the E. coli mutating to become antibiotic resistant (which is the case with this current toxic strain).
Now for the good news. There is something you can do to help prevent getting sick. Say aye if you are interested in knowing what you can do to prevent E. coli contamination.. Aye Aye Aye!!!
Okay good. Here are four tips that can help to reduce your risk of coming in contact with the E. coli bacteria.
TIP #1: Wash your vegetables thoroughly! A great trick for this is to fill your sink with cool water and add 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar). Then soak your vegetables in the sink for about 5 minutes. Use a vegetable scrubber to scrub the veggies that have a harder surface, such as cucumbers. Rinse and dry them on a clean dish towel or in a salad spinner and store in the fridge until you use them. You can wrap the lettuce in a tea towel and put it in a plastic bag to help it stay fresh. This cleaning tip is super helpful because vinegar has been shown to kill bacteria. Therefore, washing our veggies in water and apple cider vinegar can help to eliminate our risk of getting E. coli. Note: The same thing can be done with your fruits.
TIP #2: If you are eating a ground meat, make sure it is fully cooked! For example, if the E. coli is on some ground beef, then that beef is formed into a hamburger patty, the E. coli is now inside the burger. If you don’t fully cook that burger so that the meat on the inside is cooked, you risk getting sick. With a steak it is different because the meat on the inside of the steak was never exposed to air and did not come in contact with the bacteria. As long as the outside of the steak is cooked, it is okay that the centre is not.
TIP #3: Your gut is full of bacteria! This is a good thing. However, we want to make sure we have about 85% good bacteria and 15% bad bacteria. When the ratio is off then an imbalance occurs and problems start to arise. Include some fermented foods in your diet like sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. These foods are high in healthy bacteria and help you to maintain a good balance in your gut. People who have a good bacteria party going on are more able to fight off unwanted food bacteria when it enters the body.
TIP #4: When possible, go to local farmers markets and buy from the farmer. This way you can ask them about their farming practices and if they use manure as fertilizer. Keep in mind that manure is a fantastic fertilizer but you want to ask them where they get it from. Local smaller farms that focus heavily on providing high quality produce, tend to get their inputs (e.g. manure) from a high quality source and not from the poor quality industrial farming industry.
With these simple tips we are 1 step closer to saying goodbye to E. coli. However, this doesn’t address the cause of the problem which is that our industrial animal farming practices are leading to us getting sick. To take action and have an impact on the cause of this issue, I encourage you to learn more about where your meat comes from and purchase healthier animal products. The best way to vote is with your fork. To learn more about the animal farming industry, I recommend the fantastic documentary film Food Inc. and/or the book Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Next… I would love to hear your thoughts. Make sure you leave a comment and share this post on twitter and facebook to help the poeple you care about avoid getting sick from E. coli.