We’ve all heard news reports in recent years of people sickened or even dying from consuming food contaminated with E. coli or Salmonella bacteria.
So I was astonished recently to learn that bacteria called campylobacter cause many more cases of food-borne illness than either E. coli or Salmonella.
“Campylobacter is the leading cause of gastrointestinal illness in the United States, yet nobody’s heard of it,” Laura Hendley, a sanitarian with the Lewis & Clark City-County Health Department, informed me last week.
“Especially in this county,” her colleague Laurel Riek said. Riek added that between July 1, 2004 and June 30, 2005, Lewis & Clark County recorded 18 cases of campylobacter infection, compared with only six cases of illness from Salmonella.
She and Hendley explained that campylobacter, like many other kinds of bacteria, get into humans when people unwittingly ingest feces (“poop”) from young animals with diarrhea such as calves, kittens and puppies, as well as chickens and wild birds. In humans, the infection can occur when water or improperly prepared food get contaminated with the feces of animals infected with the bacteria. Infection can also occur during swimming, when people swallow water contaminated by wild birds.
The good news is that proper cooking, handling and preparation of food kill the bacteria, rendering them harmless. And avoiding swallowing water while swimming makes water play much safer.
Handling raw meat and cooking meat improperly are by far the most common sources of campylobacter infection, Hendley said. Harmful levels of bacteria can live on the outside of a package of meat too, Riek warned. Most raw poultry is contaminated with campylobacter, both inside it and on its surface, she said.
“Your best defense is good handwashing after handling raw meat or packages of raw meat,” she said.
Raw eggs, too, may contain the bacteria inside and out, Hendley added.
Read the full article at http://www.helenair.com/articles/2006/07/11/health/c01071106_02.txt