Recognising and avoiding risks
In Germany, at least 80 people have been infected with deadly EHECs. Health experts suspect that raw vegetables may be the source of the infection. EHECs occur naturally in the intestines of ruminants and are expelled in the animal’s excrement. They can be transferred to humans, causing illnesses. EHEC infections occur all over the world. Since the reporting obligation was introduced in Germany in 2001, the Robert Koch Institute has reported between 800 and 1200 cases of sickness annually. EHEC infections can be bound up with serious progression of a disease and to lifelong side effects (for example high blood pressure or renal insufficiency), with potentially fatal results. For this reason, EHEC bacteria are one of the most important sources of bacterial infections that can be transmitted via food.
What are EHECs?
Enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) denotes shigatoxin-producing E. coli – STEC (synonyms: Verotoxin-producing E. coli: VTEC or shiga-like toxin-producing E. coli: SLTEC), which, in humans, can cause a haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) or a haemorrhagic colitis and therefore cause bloody diarrhoea. Many illnesses exhibit only watery diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting. EHEC strains are very infectious. Even just 10 to 100 bacteria can trigger a sickness. These bacteria are also very resistant to environmental influences (acidic environment, cold, dehydration, high salt concentrations). EHECs multiply in the temperature range 7° to 50°C.
Which foodstuffs are sources of infection?
The bacteria often come into contact with the foodstuff during the slaughtering process or during milking. EHECs are therefore regularly found in raw, insufficiently heated animal-derived food products. These include: raw milk and products made from it, raw or insufficiently heated meat and mince, spreadable raw sausage (eg of the German Braunschweiger, Teewurst and Zwiebelmettwurst types). But fruit, vegetables and non-pasteurised juices can also be possible sources of transmission, through contaminated water or fertiliser. And at the food preparation stage, EHEC can be transferred from contaminated foodstuffs to usually ready-to-eat food products. Similarly, indirect transmission is also possible via hands, work surfaces, knives and utensils. They can also be transmitted between humans via contact and smear infections. What’s more, infection can also take place through contaminated bathwater.
The Institut Kirchhoff offers quality control of raw materials and finished products in the food, drink, pharmaceutical, animal feed and cosmetic industries, as well as for hospitals, pools, hotels, industrial kitchens, catering businesses and nursery schools etc. Get in touch with us – we would be pleased to advise you.
Thanks to a DNA propagation method (real-time PCR with highly specific TaqMan probes) we are in a position to notify you of the results after just 24 hours. We offer the complete spectrum of foodstuff and water testing, because EHECs are not the only potential risk emanating from them.