Ask the average man on the street (or doctor, for that matter) what causes food poisoning and they'll say meat. That is, until this week, when news of a really nasty outbreak of E. coli linked to salad leaves. At the last count, 151 people (144 in England, 6 in Wales and one in Scotland) have been affected, with two deaths since it was first reported at the end of June.
I regularly have to advise my patients with urine infections that they have an E. coli infection, which is responsible for 90% of cases of cystitis. I've already had three panicked patients this week. But there are lots of types of E. coli, and some are far more dangerous than others. In fact, most of us have E. coli living harmlessly in our guts - although if it gets into your bladder it can cause inflammation and the painful burning of cystitis.
One of the nastiest strains - and fortunately one of the least common - is the E. coli O157 which has been implicated in this latest outbreak. It's a member of the VTEC family of E. coli - unlike other E. coli strains, these make poisons (toxins) responsible for much of the damage. Some people infected suffer 'common or garden' gastroenteritis, with diarrhoea, tummy cramps, fever and vomiting for a few days. But some get more severe inflammation, with bloody diarrhoea and occasionally profuse bleeding due to defective clotting, or kidney failure.
Of course, we've also seen the hottest day of the year so far - temperatures in my surgery reached 32°C and it's still 24°C as I write, even though it's long after dark. Add to that the start of the summer holidays, and picnics and barbecues are on all our minds. But the average doctor - or professional caterer - is more likely to be worrying about food poisoning than salivating over the sausages. Because without the right precautions, both treats can have all
The Food Standards Agency recommends the four Cs to cut the risk of food poisoning:
If you're anything like my patients, you're probably now wondering what the 'thoroughly' bit of 'wash thoroughly' actually means. You may not be surprised to hear that opinions vary. Some food hygiene specialists recommend soaking most veg for 15 minutes to ensure all soil particles are gone. Others apply that rule only to potatoes or
I'm acutely conscious that yet again I get to be the killjoy, predicting doom and gloom even on the balmiest of days. But I'm not suggesting you avoid fruit and veg completely - the risks are far outweighed by the life-long benefits to your health. I'm not even suggesting you avoid the barbecue - I just don't want to see you in my surgery as a result!
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