Why you should take note
The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with federal and provincial public health partners to investigate an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7, commonly called E.coli, with a possible link to leafy greens. A specific product has not been identified yet, and the investigation is ongoing.
At this time, the risk to Canadians is low. However, Canadians are reminded to follow safe food handling practices to avoid illness.
E. coli are bacteria that live naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals. Most E. coli are harmless to humans, but some varieties carry genes that allow them to cause illness.
While most people made ill by E. coli experience a few days of upset stomach and then recover fully, infections can sometimes be life threatening.
There have been 12 cases of E.coli with a matching genetic fingerprint reported in Alberta (9), Saskatchewan (1), Ontario (1), and Newfoundland and Labrador (1). The illness onset dates range from March 13 to March 31, 2015.
Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to leafy greens has emerged as a possible source of illness. Leafy greens can include all varieties of lettuces and other green leaf vegetables such as kale, spinach, arugula, or chard. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s investigation into the food source is ongoing. If products are identified, the Agency will inform the public and ensure that they are promptly removed from the marketplace.
The Public Health Agency routinely investigates multi-provincial gastro-intestinal illness outbreaks, including E.coli, in an effort to determine if illnesses are linked to the same source. The Agency will update Canadians when new information becomes available.
Who is most at risk?
Although anyone can get an E.coli infection, pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems, young children and older adults are most at risk for developing serious complications.
What you should do
The following tips will help you reduce your risk of infection with E. coli or other food-borne illnesses:
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them, clean counters and cutting boards and wash your hands regularly.
- Bacteria can grow in the danger zone between 4 °C and 60 °C (40 °F to 140 °F). Keep cold foods cold at or below 4 °C (40 °F) and keep hot foods hot at or above 60 °C (140 °F).
- Keep refrigerators clean and at a temperature below 4 °C (40 °F). Install a thermometer in your fridge to be sure.
- Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Use containers that are large enough to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other food or touching other food.
- Keep raw food away from other food while shopping, storing, preparing and serving foods.
- Read labels and follow cooking and storage instructions for all food. When buying food, make sure to check the “best before” date, and if the product has expired, let the store know.
- Use warm soapy water to clean knives, cutting boards, utensils, your hands and any surfaces that have come in contact with food, especially meat and fish.
- Refrigerate or freeze perishable food within two hours of cooking.
- Freeze or consume leftovers within four days of cooking. Always reheat leftovers until steaming hot before eating.
People infected with E.coli can have a wide range of symptoms. Some do not get sick at all, though they can still spread the infection to others. Others feel as though they have a bad case of upset stomach. Still others become seriously ill and must be hospitalized.
The following symptoms can appear within one to ten days after contact with the bacteria:
- severe stomach cramps
- watery or bloody diarrhea
- slight fever
Most symptoms clear up within five to ten days. However, some people who are infected with E.coli develop life-threatening symptoms, including kidney failure, seizures and stroke. While most will recover completely, others may suffer permanent health effects, like kidney damage, and some may die.
There is no real treatment for E.coli infections, other than monitoring the illness, providing comfort, and preventing dehydration through proper hydration and nutrition. People who develop complications may need further treatment, like dialysis for kidney failure. You should contact your health care provider if symptoms persist.