Escherichia coli O157:H7, or E. coli as it’s better known, is one of the nastier strains of harmful bacteria and according to the mayoclinic “can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting” and can even induce “..a life threatening form of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)”
Something that the Mayo Clinic’s website gets wrong though is the conclusion that this bacteria can also be obtained by eating certain raw or undercooked vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are innocent bystandars. The spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers and many others that have been in the news in recent years believed to be perpetuating the spread of the bacteria are not to blame.
To give credit where credit is due we must consider the source. Given the rate of slaughter that was briefly touched upon in Part I it’s clear that cattle are raised at an exponential rate. To accommodate this growing demand for meat the cattle are fattened up and slaughtered at younger ages all the time.
Cows have a stomach with four chambers for a reason. The chambers are responsible for efficiently digesting grass, a rudiment animal’s primary food source. Cattle who are consistently fed grass have a healthy gastrointestinal tract that does not allow E. coli to grow. When cattle are fed grains, primarily corn as its cheap and makes them larger even faster, the pH level of their GI tract is changed and the abnormal environment inside these chambers allows the E. coli bacteria to grow.
The run off of either waste or remnants from the rendering process can come into contact with fruits and vegetables that are grown on lands nearby. This is then how these otherwise bacteria free foods become infected.
The popular and Oscar nominated documentary Food, Inc. explored one of the more shocking methods used to kill the E. coli bacteria present in meat from cows fed diets void of grass. Ammonium hydroxide, a mixture of ammonia and water, was known as an innovative process used by Beef Products Inc. to turn fatty beef trimmings, usually ridden with E. coli and salmonella into hamburger filler. Of course, Beef Products, Inc. provides a disclaimer about this process and how trace amounts of ammonia are not actually harmful to those who consume meat treated with it.
Beef Products, Inc. goes into great detail and fallacy about how ammonia is essential for life and evolution. Your body does in fact produce ammonia but it’s a by product of the production of proteins. This by product is then converted into urine by the liver and as part of a healthy body’s function excreted daily. However, should ammonia enter into your bloodstream and subsequently your brain encephalopathy –an altered state of the brain can occur. This can, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke , cause “tremor, muscle atrophy and weakness, dementia, seizures, and loss of ability to swallow or speak.”
Eric Schlosser’s novel Fast Food Nation provides a sad account of Alex a six year old infected with with E. coli O157:H7 in July of 1993 after eating a hamburger. E. coli O157:H7 releases a verotoxin or “Shiga” that attacks the lining of the intestine. I will avoid going into detail here concerning exactly what took place as Alex’s small body was destroyed by the bacteria. In short, the young boy became infected on a Tuesday and was dead by Sunday afternoon. He was unable to recognize his mother and father after parts of his brain had become liquified. The sad truth is that those who do survive HUS are left with disabilities and brain damage.
Honestly there is no lighter side of E.coli. There is no cure, no preventative measures or treatment that can be taken once a person becomes infected. The CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from a foodborne illness. These statistics are just based on those cases that are reported and do not represent foodborne illness on a Global scale.
There is no cooking your spinach “well done” to kill the bacteria either.