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Careful Now

Public warned to take extra care with food after 96 cases of E.coli infection in ten days

The number of cases is over three times as high as this time last year.

THE HSE HAS warned people to take extra care when preparing food following an increase in cases of a type of E.coli called Vtec in recent weeks.

Vtec is a common cause of food poisoning which can lead to serious complications. Symptoms of the infection vary but often include diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. The symptoms usually pass within five to ten days.

However, the HSE said Vtec infection can also cause a more serious complication called Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) in up to 10% of cases which can lead to kidney failure, and occasionally even death. HUS is more common in children under five and the elderly. It is important to visit your doctor if you develop bloody diarrhoea.

The number of Vtec cases reported in Ireland in the past ten days (96) is over three times as high as this time last year.

A study carried out in Ireland in 2013 showed raw minced beef burgers and minced beef samples from retail and catering premises were contaminated with Vtec, which was detected in 2.5% of samples. Eating meat – especially minced beef – that has not been thoroughly cooked all the way through to kill these bugs can cause food poisoning.

To ensure that minced meat burgers are safe to eat, the HSE they should be cooked to a core temperature of 75°C.

Vtec can also be found in the stools of an infected person and can be passed from person to person if hygiene or hand-washing habits are inadequate.

This is particularly common among toddlers who are not toilet trained. The HSE said family members and playmates of these children are at high risk of becoming infected. Any vegetables or fruit that have been contaminated by animal faeces and which are not washed properly before consumption can also cause infection.

Dr Kevin Kelleher, Assistant National Director, Public Health, said investigations haven’t identified a specific reason for the increase in cases but the HSE would like to remind people to be careful about food safety during this heatwave to protect themselves against food poisoning.

“This hot weather provides the right conditions for bacteria such as Vtec to grow and multiply on foods which can lead to high numbers of cases of food poisoning in adults and children.

“Not washing hands after handling raw meat, not washing fruits and vegetables and undercooking minced meats such as beef burgers are common ways of getting food poisoning at this time of year.”

The HSE has advised people to follow the four steps from SafeFood to prevent food poisoning:

  • Clean – always wash your hands before and after preparing, handling and eating food, after visiting the toilet or after playing with pets or animals.
  • Cook – make sure that food is cooked all the way through in order to destroy any harmful bacteria that might be present.
  • Chill – keep food cool in order to prevent bad bacteria from growing; make sure that your fridge is at the correct temperature to keep cold foods chilled – aim to keep your fridge at 5°C or below.
  • Separate to prevent cross-contamination – separate raw and cooked foods during storage and cooking and never let raw food, for example raw meat, come into contact with ready-to-eat foods such as salads.

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