The recall of Alberta beef from the XL Foods Inc. plant in Brooks has highlighted the need for people to take care when handling food.
It's important to remember that most strains of E. coli bacteria are harmless.
But strains such as the one linked to the XL beef can be serious, including the possibility of kidney failure. Like some other foodborne pathogens, infection by E. coli O157: H7 can be fatal.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) advises, "Like other foodborne illnesses, the symptoms of E. coli infection mainly involve the gut. Symptoms may vary from person to person, however, they often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often watery, and may develop into bloody), vomiting, and fever (generally not very high - usually less than 38.5?C/101?F)."
Symptoms normally last five to seven days, but some people who get sick from E. coli O157: H7 develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which can be fatal. HUS is more likely to be serious for children, the elderly, pregnant women, or people with compromised immune systems.
In some people HUS can cause seizures or strokes, and some will need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others may end up with permanent kidney damage. If you think you are sick with an E. coli O157: H7 infection, call your doctor or get to a clinic.
"Proper hygiene and safe food handling and preparation practices are key to preventing the spread of all foodborne illnesses, including E. coli," PHAC notes.
Keep food preparation surfaces clean, and wash your hands.
Despite the cases directly related to the current XL recall, there have been no unusual spikes in overall E. coli O157 foodborne illnesses reported across Canada.
If everyone takes proper precautions, it should stay that way.