Advisory outlined to combat E. coli

The previous advisory dated May 27, which advises against eating or serving raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce in Europe, is still in effect.  The advisory to not eat these products remains in accordance with current German public health guidelines and is the best way to lower the risk of food borne illness, considering the severity of the current outbreak. 

Vegetable cleaning or disinfecting may lower the risk of food borne illness, but may not be enough to sufficiently reduce the number of bacteria, such as enterohemorrhagic E. coli, when only a few bacteria must be present to cause disease.  

U.S. government-sponsored dining facilities and commissary salad bars serving pre-packaged, bagged lettuces from the U.S. should post notification that the lettuce was grown and processed in the states and is not an implicated source in the current E. coli outbreak in Europe.

Department of Defense personnel and families in Europe who choose to eat raw tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce assume a higher risk of food borne illness.
There are measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of food borne illness when consuming raw vegetables that may have been contaminated with enterohemorrhagic E. coli.

» For example, if buying fresh vegetables, place them in separate bags and keep them separate from other food items during transport and refrigeration.

» Before and after preparing vegetables, thoroughly wash hands for at least 20 seconds using soap and warm water.

» Clean and sanitize cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing each type of vegetable. 

» Rinse them in drinking/tap water to remove any soil. If vegetables have been waxed during processing, scrub with soap and water to remove wax, then rinse. For leafy vegetables, remove the core/heart.

» Immerse the vegetable in a room-temperature chlorine bath for at least 30 seconds. The chlorine bath can be prepared by mixing a ratio of approximately two teaspoons of ordinary household bleach (no additives) to each gallon of drinking/tap water. This is approximately a chlorine concentration of 100 parts per million. Household bleach must be used with extreme caution: never mix bleach with other cleaning agents and only use correct concentrations.

» After immersion in the chlorine bath, rinse the vegetable in drinking/tap water, then allow to air dry or dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.

» Prevent cross-contamination, which is the contact of raw, unclean food items or utensils with clean or cooked food items.

Other vegetable cleaning procedures exist, but only FDA-approved cleaning and disinfectant methods should be used. 

Signs that relay the above information should be clearly posted at all U.S. government-sponsored commissaries and dining facilities. Signs should also state that Europe is currently experiencing an outbreak of E. coli. 

For more detailed instruction on how to clean and cook vegetables, read Technical Bulletin MED 530, Food Safety.

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