6 Little-Known E. Coli Strains Now a Big Threat

E. coli O157:H7 gets all of the attention, with its name in headlines around the world and a fearsome reputation as a deadly foodborne bacterium. But flying quietly under the radar are O157:H7′s six little-known cousins, and they’re about to make their debut as a serious threat to human health, according to the New York Times.

“The big six”, as they’re known to public health experts, are a range of disease-causing strains of E. coli, and while they’re typically overshadowed by O157:H7 — which has killed hundreds and sickened thousands of people — they’re just as dangerous.

In April, at least 26 people were sickened by romaine lettuce tainted with one of the strains, including three teenagers who developed kidney failure. The outbreak, caused by E. coli O145, was traced to Ohio company Freshway Foods.

But few food companies test for these strains, and the meat industry is fighting a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) consideration to outlaw selling ground beef tainted with the big six. These strains are difficult and time-consuming to identify.

Organic greens producer Earthbound Farms is one of few companies in the U.S. that screens for the full range of E. coli bacteria, and its tests have been illuminating: about 1 in 1,000 samples show the presence of one of the six strains.

“No one is looking for non-O157 to the level we are,” Will Daniels, Earthbound Farm’s senior vice president for food safety, told the New York Times. “I believe it is really going to emerge as one of the areas of concern.”

E. coli can be killed in meat when it’s cooked to at least 160 degrees, but preventing illness from contaminated produce is more complex. Scientists believe the bacteria may be tracked onto foods like lettuce and strawberries by wild animals, or transmitted through irrigation water.

The USDA is currently developing tests that can rapidly detect the big six strains of E. coli, hoping to complete them by the end of 2011.

More from MNN:
Health care providers work to heal the planet
Is the U.S. to blame for the flu?
10 flu-fighting foods

By Stephanie Rogers, MNN

597 comments

Aditya Narayan
Aditya n.4 years ago

THANKS

Micheal Moffat
Past Member 4 years ago

they never did a thing, nothing to deserve this. yet to have their lives sacrificed for nothing. the fate of one is reflected in the fates of all. the adage that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword can be seen as consuming fear, torture, anger, confusion and death creates your own fear torture anger confusion and death... save lives and in turn save "you".
life has value beyond measure
Peace and Love

Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Elisabeth T.
Elisabeth T.5 years ago

Thank you for this important information..

Miranda R.
Miranda Lee R.5 years ago

I remember when an outbreak of E. coli in spinach was caused by runoff from a neighboring livestock field. I still eat organic spinach, but think about it from time to time as this could potentially effect organic produce as well. Grass fed beef does not contain E. coli, but I wonder if it's present in organic grain fed beef?

Gordana Roljic
Gordana Roljic5 years ago

.horrible.

Loraine Warren
Loraine Warren6 years ago

My moher died from e-coli and it wasn't from raw food. It was passed onto her by a persons dirty hands. So be just as careful of people who don't clean their hands after food has been cooked.

DeannaGiggles JustBecause
Deanna Zimmerman6 years ago

Gee Elle,
You are saying that tainted food is spread on purpose? How would you find out who intentionally tainted the food?

Elle E.
Elle g.6 years ago

The penalty for killing someone with tainted food should be the same as if it was done with a gun.

Saroey E.
Ra S.6 years ago

wow thats disgusting!!
sad that it even contaminates
precious produce:(
Kudos to Earthbound Farms :D
Eat organic meat if possible
& of course organic produce