Your Food Safety
E. coli 0157:H7
Poison From The Sea
On The Light Side
Food Galley Safety
Food Safety Savvy:
By Jean Dible,
GA Food Safety Professionals
Your Food Safety Connection
Since the E. coli foodborne outbreak has been in the media news so much recently, it is
important to discuss E-coli with the General Aviation industry. The
probability of eating contaminated food from any source on the ground, or
purchasing contaminated food from a catering company or restaurant for
aviation passengers and crew has always been a threat and continues to be one.
E. coli bacteria is not the only food safety threat to be aware of. There are
many other pathogen possibilities in all types of foods purchased for the
E-coli bacteria were discovered in the human colon in 1885 by a German
bacteriologist named Escherich. Dr. Escherich also showed that certain strains
of the bacteria were responsible for infant diarrhea and gastroenteritis.
There are hundreds of strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli, so numbers
and letters are assigned to the different types of e-coli, which distinguishes
the dangerous E. coli 0157:H7 from other types of E-coli.
The seriousness of E. coli 0157:H7 is a result of its ability to produce
Shiga-like toxins, which cause damage to endothelial cells in the pancreas,
brain, and other organs, thus inhibiting those organs ‘ ability to function.
In healthy people, the symptoms of E-coli 0157:H7 usually culminate with
severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps, with the illness resolving itself
in 5 to 10 days without treatment. However, in about 2% to 7% of infections
(usually in children under 5-years and the elderly, who would probably be a
high percentage of the CEO’s flying in General Aviation aircraft) , the
pathogen causes hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious and life-threatening
condition in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) in Atlanta, GA estimates
that 73,000 cases of E-coli 0157:H7 occur annually in the United States. Each
year, 2,100 Americans are hospitalized, and 61-people die as a direct result
of E. coli infections
E-coli 0157:H7 was first recognized as a foodborne pathogen in 1982 during an
outbreak of hemorrhagic colitis (6), which was associated with consumption of
hamburgers from a major chain restaurant in the United States. Outbreaks from
this strain of E-coli have also involved unpasteurized apple juice and orange
juice, unpasteurized milk, alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, improperly cured dry
salami, undercooked ground beef and non-chlorinated water.
Outbreaks of E-coli can also be from person-to-person transmission of the
bacteria in homes and in settings like daycare, hospitals, nursing homes, or
from animal-to-human exposure, such as in petting zoos. Since humans carry
E-coli in their colons, using the bathroom and not washing the hands
sufficiently before handling food or other objects can also spread the E-coli
bacteria to others. Dirty human hands, which handle food of any type, are a
major threat to food safety on the ground or in the air. Long fingernails on
flight attendants are reservoirs for the spreading of all types of bacteria.
Disposable gloves are essential in handling any type of ready-to-eat food on
the ground or in the air.
Unless the reader has had down time on a tropical island for the last two
months, you have heard about the E-coli outbreak in bagged Spinach and lettuce
throughout the news media. These E-coli outbreaks have brought the industrial
agriculture industry and
produce farmers to their knees. More outbreaks of E-coli disease are now being
traced to produce than to meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk combined.
Many of the scientific community have their own theory as to why the E-coli
outbreaks are occurring, but no one has an answer to the problem, as of this
writing. Several of the scientific theories have been that the pathogen was
absorbed into the leaves of the lettuce or spinach through the plant’s root
system because of being picked up through contaminated groundwater; the
plastic bags may have the microbe inside the bags, dirty processing equipment;
contaminated hands from farm workers, etc. The bottom line is that this is a
wake-up call for all Americans throughout the United States and abroad
concerning food safety issues.
The following ways are recommended for guarding yourself, family, flight crew
and passengers aboard General Aviation aircraft against ingesting E. coli from
any of the sources mentioned already:
Either cook, or make sure ground beef is cooked thoroughly. Ground Beef turns
brown quickly, while cooking, giving the appearance that it is well cooked,
but the E-coli disease causing bacteria may not be destroyed yet. Always make
sure a thermometer is used while cooking ground beef. The minimum internal
temperature of the cooked ground beef should be from 155 to 160 degrees F to
insure that the E-coli bacteria is destroyed. Wash meat thermometers between
testing of ground beef patties, or use a disposable thermometer one time,
while testing Ground beef, and then trash it.
Avoid cross contamination of bacteria in your kitchen or the aircraft galley.
Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods.
Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw
meat. Sanitize all areas with a chemical sanitizer afterwards.
Drink only bottled water, purchased in the United States, when you fly
international trips. Above all, be very careful with the treatment of you bags
of ice and ice drawers in the aircraft. Many different types of bacteria can
live in cold environments. Dirty hands holding an ice scoop by the handle and
then allowing the entire scoop to fall down in the ice is just asking for
trouble in the aircraft. Ice machines in the FBO’s and hangers are also
another viable source for bacteria growth.
Cut fruits and vegetables, which are purchased from a catering company or
restaurant, should be kept cold at all times. Many people assume that because
some fruits and vegetables are displayed without refrigeration, that all
produce is safe at room temperature. Once a fruit or vegetable is cut or has
been pealed, the opportunity for contamination increases, allowing pathogens
to spread from and to the cut surface. It is important to treat cut or bagged
produce the way that meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products are treated to
insure the produce’s safety.
Before eating, wash all produce thoroughly in a stream of water, which
includes most fruits. Save your money concerning produce washes; they do not
claim to kill harmful bacteria. Discard any areas of produce showing even the
slightest evidence of spoilage.
If you are personally gun-shy concerning pre-cut bagged produce, you will need
to go back to using regular untreated head lettuce, which you will have to
wash and cut your self. Dr. Michael P. Doyle, director of the University of
Georgia’s Center for Food Safety, recommends extra precautions now that E.
coli has become such a problem. Dr. Doyle recommends discarding the outer
leaves of any head lettuce and then washing your hands with hot, soapy water
before removing the rest of the leaves and washing them individually. Catering
companies and restaurants may or may not clean produce correctly, which is a
chance that you will have to take when ordering food for an aircraft.
Not only do you have to be careful about raw meat contaminating ready-to-eat
food, but also keeping unwashed salad greens and utensils away from any food
that will not be cooked. In the grand scheme of things, E-coli is still a
lingering threat, but chances of getting sick from E-coli in lettuce or
spinach are still small considering that over six million packages of cut
greens are sold daily in the United States, and less than 200 illnesses have
been reported, so far! E-coli are not the only lingering threat to food
safety; you can never let down your guard concerning any type of food safety
for yourself, your family, or your General Aviation passengers and crew.
CDC: Center For Disease Control: Atlanta, GA
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
The New York Times (9/27/06)
ServSafe Essentials – Fourth Edition
Dible is president and founder of
GA Food Safety
Professionals, a mobile food & alcohol safety training school in
Atlanta, GA. Jean is a contributing writer to the
Corporate Flight Attendant Community
website; her Your Food Safety Connection column appears here on a