Fighting FoodBourne Germs
There are simple steps you can take do protect yourself from e.Coli and other nasty germs.
It was nearly five years ago when Kathleen McCleary was sickened by a dangerous form of e. Coli, a bacteria that lives in the intestine of some animals that can contaminate foods, everything from produce to meat to dairy products.
"I was quite ill for several days and it took several weeks to get my strength back and it was just a debilitating illness," she says. "I remember thinking how frightening it would have been if my daughter had gotten sick."
Doctors told McCleary the most likely culprit was bagged lettuce she had eaten the night before.
Ever since her illness McCleary completely changed the way she shops and eats.
"I really am pretty vigilant about it because it's such a strong deterrent to never want to go through that kind of illness again," she says.
She started with making changes at her own home, thoroughly washing all produce, especially lettuces, keeping her cutting board labeled -- one side for meats, one side for veggies and even using hydrogen peroxide to clean the kitchen after cooking, making sure any left over bacteria is killed.
Then she changed where she shops.
McCleary buys all of her produce and meats at the local farmer's market each week.
That also means spending more money, $80 to $100 just on those items alone.
"It just makes me feel better because if there's a problem, you can chase it more directly," she says.
Sarah Klein is an attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
She says while there has been a rise in dangerous pathogens being found on foods, especially produce, the government is now doing a better job in getting the word out about these cases.
"It's really unfortunate that some of the foods that are healthiest for us may not be the safest," she says.
Klein says there are a few things consumers can do to avoid getting sick from these foods.
Purchase pasteurized eggs; they are more expensive, but the pasteurization process kills dangerous bacteria.
Use a thermometer when cooking meats and poultry to make sure they reach a safe temperature.
Like McCleary, use separate cutting boards for raw meats and produce to avoid cross contamination.
Don't rely on terms like organic, natural and sustainable.
Those products may offer some health and environmental benefits, but they have nothing to do with food safety.
"We've seen just as many outbreaks in organic products as we have from commercial, non-organic products," Klein says.
One important note from the Center for Science in the Public Interest: they say be careful when washing some produce like bagged lettuce that's already been pre-washed.
If it's contaminated with something like e. Coli washing won't kill the bacteria, but washing it in your kitchen sink actually puts you at more risk from cross contamination especially if you had been just working with raw meat.