The federal government warned consumers Monday to take precautions cooking meat after disease detectives concluded there is a connection between 14 cases of illness caused by a dangerous strain of E. coli that has been found in seven states across the country in the last six months.
Amanda Eamich, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said scientific tests only recently connected the illnesses to the same pathogen _ known by its scientific name E. coli 0157:H7 _ but the source of the pathogen has not yet been determined.
“As the science gets better and better, we are going to be seeing more of this,” Eamich said. She said there is no group pattern to outbreaks of the disease that might have alerted the government earlier, and FSIS Monday issued a public health alert urging consumers to adopt safe practices when handling raw ground beef and other foods.
Those practices involve cooking meat to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit; proper washing of hands with warm, soapy water after handling food; and washing fruits and vegetables with cold water before using.
Eamich said scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, FSIS, and state and local health departments have linked the 14 outbreaks in seven states from September 2005 to last month to the E. coli pathogen. The states involved were California, Iowa, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
The CDC says E. coli 0157:H7 is a dangerous foodborne pathogen that causes an estimated 73,000 cases of disease and 61 deaths each year, and can be lethal for young children or people with compromised immune systems. The pathogen was first identified in 1982, and outbreaks of illness have been linked most commonly to eating undercooked hamburger. But infections also have been linked to drinking raw milk, eating sprouts, or fruits and vegetables washed in E. coli-contaminated water.