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Local food one way to keep E. Coli at bay in Iowa

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | JUNE 10, 2011 7:20 AM

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A recent outbreak of the E. coli bacteria hasn’t made its way to Johnson County, and locally grown food may be the key to keeping it that way.

Several area businesses specializing in locally grown produce said focusing on local food is important in preventing such an outbreak.

“Supporting local food vendors helps eliminate those scares,” said Jenifer Angerer, the marketing manager for the New Pioneer Co-Op. “We know exactly how our farmers are handling our food. We can go back to that farm. We know exactly how it’s being cleaned, and handled, and processed. Fewer people handling it means there’s more security and safety.”

Tammy Neumann, the Iowa City Farmers’ Market coordinator, said local produce vendors have been selling their products without problems.

She said the identifiable source of their food is what appeals to the public.

“Especially in this community, the farmers are very important to the people,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 E. coli-related fatalities have been recorded in Germany and one in Sweden since the beginning of the outbreak six weeks ago. No source has been identified.

In the United States, there has been one confirmed case of this strain of E. coli and three suspected cases in the country. The strains were found in those who had recently traveled to Germany.

Andy Weigel, a disease-prevention specialist at the Johnson County Public Health Department, said each individual — particularly those who have been outside the country — should be aware of the symptoms that indicate infection.

“Any persons who have recently traveled to Germany and have seen the signs should see their medical provider, especially if you have signs of the symptoms such as stomach cramps and vomiting,” Weigel said.

People are urged to take precautions by frequently washing their hands and handling food properly, said Brian Hudson, an environmental health specialist at the Johnson County Public Health Department.

“I would educate people, obviously, on temperatures,” Hudson said. “When working with food, you need to make sure you’re processing them correctly between freezing, storing, and preparing.”

Michael Pentella, a University of Iowa clinical associate professor in the Disease Control Administration, said people should comply with efforts to prevent outbreaks, even if that makes them uncomfortable.

“It’s always important when an individual goes to see a physician, and the physician goes to order a lab test of the stool, that they comply with that request,” he said.

While Germany may seem disconnected from the local community, Pentella said, everyone should be aware of the problem to prevent further contamination.

“We live in a very global world, so a lot of food supplies are easily transported through the world,” he said. “And because we don’t know what causes this, we need to be on our guard.”


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