E.coli outbreak a warning to the U.S.

June 06, 2011

We must learn from this tragic outbreak, and take assertive steps now to prevent this toxic strain of E.coli from ever infecting America.

Since the deadly Escherichia coli broke out in Europe despite stringent food-safety standards – and the United States has been far from perfect as a protector of its own food pipeline – can we ever be too careful?

The Lempert Report says no and urges U.S. farmers, packers, food processors, retailers and consumers to renew their commitment to food safety to eliminate contact between produce and cattle feces and to follow measures like washing hands and rinsing food. Further, the new U.S. food safety law should be reviewed to possibly include testing for this fatal strain, Shiga toxin-producing E.coli O104 (STEC O104:H4), as well as more specific steps to prevent E.coli contamination in general.

Four people hospitalized in the U.S. with kidney complications were all in Hamburg, Germany last month, where most of the deaths have occurred. At press time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says all four cases are suspected as STEC 0104:H4 but are pending laboratory confirmation. Two U.S. military service members in Germany are also suspect.

The source of the bacteria – which has so far killed 18 and infected more than 1,800 people in 12 countries – remains unknown, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO reference and research center in Denmark has confirmed that this strain has been seen in humans before, but never in an outbreak.

Doubtless, scientists will continue to investigate and health agencies worldwide will monitor until the danger has passed. When the full story comes out, as it eventually will, the U.S. should learn from every aspect that’s discovered to prevent such needless suffering in this country.