Arizona Man's Death Linked to European E. coli Outbreak
Health officials have confirmed that the recent death of an Arizona man was caused by the same deadly E. coli strain that's been wreaking havoc in Europe. The elderly man died last month after visiting Germany, where the outbreak is centered. He is the first of six Americans to die after being infected by the E. coli bacteria strain that has killed 50 people in Europe, the Associated Press reports. Five of the six Americans had traveled to Germany, while another became infected after close contact with a patient in Michigan. Tainted sprout seeds from Egypt were likely the source of the outbreak, according to European officials. The strain is particularly dangerous because it can severely damage the kidneys. This is the first time it has been detected in an outbreak.
Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?
If a restaurant inspector barged into your kitchen tomorrow, would it pass the test—or would he threaten to shut you down? Clipboard in hand, he'd check the temperature inside the refrigerator. Warmer than 40 degrees? Violation. Raw meat stored above ready-to-eat food? More points off. Same goes for dirty, cracked eggs, and swollen, leaking, or rusted cans of food. And don't even think about smoking while you're cooking.
At least one in seven home kitchens would flunk a restaurant-type health inspection, a study last year by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health suggests, and only three out of five would earn an A or B. Since food consumed at home is the source of roughly half of the nation's annual 76 million cases of food-borne illnesses, that's worrisome. "Sometimes we get a little sloppy in our own kitchens," says Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and nutrition professor at Boston University. "Whether you're bringing raw food into your home to prepare or leftovers from a restaurant, you have to do your part to help reduce the risk of coming down with a food-borne illness."
To protect those who dine out, restaurant inspectors scrutinize every square inch of a commercial kitchen—from floor to ceiling and all surfaces in between. Among other things, they look for workers who are sick or don't wash their hands, perishables that sit out, dirty equipment, and not cooking, storing, or reheating food at the proper temperature. [Read more: Would Your Kitchen Pass a Restaurant Inspection?]
Food-Borne Illnesses Still a Threat, Despite New Food-Safety Law
Ten years ago, while training to be a family doctor, U.S. News blogger Kenny Lin spent several months admitting sick children to a hospital's pediatric ward. He almost always treated toddlers for severe dehydration—the result of vomiting and diarrhea. Most of them had picked up a highly contagious bug called rotavirus from contaminated food, feces, or other children. It was easy to spot them, with their sunken eyes and parched skin, Lin reported in February. They looked desperately thirsty, but were too ill to drink. Unfortunately, the only treatment for most food-borne illnesses was—and still is—fluid replacement and time.
Today, the infant rotavirus vaccine has made this type of food poisoning much less common. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still estimates that food-borne illnesses affect 48 million American children and adults each year, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. In recent years, infectious bacteria such as salmonella have been implicated in outbreaks of food poisoning from contaminated eggs, peanut butter, and raw vegetables. A report in the New England Journal of Medicine revisits the large salmonella outbreak in 2008 that sickened at least 1,500 people in 43 states and Canada. More than 300 people were hospitalized, and two died. Months of meticulous detective work by public health officials from the CDC and state health departments eventually traced the source to tainted jalapeño and serrano peppers grown on a single farm in Mexico. [Read more: Food-Borne Illnesses Still a Threat, Despite New Food-Safety Law.]