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The need for safety regulations to prevent E.Coli

Jenny Decker RN's picture

Even though the United States Department of Agriculture oversees the beef industry, there are no set regulations to provide public safety from contamination of beef from E. Coli. The New York Times writes about a young woman in Minnesota who ate beef bought from Sam’s Club that was produced by Cargill. The meat was tainted with a deadly form of E. Coli: O157:H7. She was in a coma for nine weeks and still did not fully recover. She is paralyzed from the event. Even though there was research done to find out where the source was from and subsequent changes were “encouraged” by the United States Department of Agriculture, there is still a need for safety regulations to prevent E. Coli in beef.

For beef to be made, the cow first goes to a slaughterhouse where different parts of the cow are then sent to beef producers, who then take the parts of the cow sent to them from various slaughterhouses and grind them up into beef. Slaughterhouses send low-grade ingredients to the producers that are more likely to have had contact with feces. E. Coli resides in the feces and even just a few stray cells can cause a human to become very sick.

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Unfortunately, slaughterhouses generally do not test for E.Coli, and they often will not sell to producers unless they agree not to test for E. Coli. So, producers will treat the meat with ammonia to kill the E. Coli. In a study by the Iowa State University, ammonia was found to reduce the levels of E. Coli to the point where it cannot be detected. That does not rule out the possibility that E. Coli can be present. However, the US Department of Agriculture accepted this study to mean that the treatment was effective and safe, when indeed, the E. Coli was just not being detected. The USDA has not regulated the business of beef making, it has only encouraged the slaughterhouses and producers to come up with their own safety plans, but even then, safety plans are often not being followed. For those who have been found to not follow these safety plans, the USDA has not imposed fines or sanctions.

Even though consumers are warned to cook their meat thoroughly and to wash up afterwards, this is not enough to stop the spread of E.Coli. Some officials state that eating beef is not entirely safe. Signs and symptoms of E. Coli will generally show up about three to four days after eating contaminated meat. It is possible to become ill just one day after exposure and it may not show up until a week or more later. Diarrhea may range from mild and watery to severe and bloody. Other signs and symptoms include abdominal cramping with pain or tenderness. Some people may also experience nausea and vomiting, according to Mayoclinic.com.

Here are some food safety tips to prevent E. Coli

Most cases of E. Coli will resolve on their own. However, between 5-10% of cases become severe. Severe cases are life threatening and known as hemolytic uremic syndrome. It is important to see your doctor if you become ill after eating fresh produce or ground beef. Diarrhea that persists or is severe is another reason to see your doctor. Bloody diarrhea signals the need to seek immediate medical attention. Clearly, there is a need for safety regulations to prevent E. Coli outbreaks.



Why has no one addressed the eColi issue in Kentucky where in Jefferson County their outdated Combined Sewage Overflows dump thousands of gallons of raw sewage monthly into the streams, lakes and rivers, where all the waterways of Kentucky are contaminated with eColi, hence the soil and environment surrounding them? There is a swim and fish advisory for most of the State, yet few of the waterways are posted. This is a human health risk there yet it has never been addressed.
Have any groups forced the issue? It should be pushed by the public, blogged about, written about to news publications, and calls should be made. Care2 is a great place to start a petition also. Your question is a good one!