Canadian Food Safety Alliance

Preventing E. coli at the Source

Food Safety Survey Results

We are happy to release a new poll today that takes a snapshot of Canadian opinions of the subject of food safety.

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There are several Shiga toxigenic E. coli (STEC) strains other than O157:H7 that can cause illness in humans. However, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, E. coli O157:H7 causes approximately 90% of all severe STEC infections in humans.

E. coli O157 emits a powerful Shiga toxin that enters the circulatory system through a person’s damaged intestinal lining. Between 2% and 7% of infected individuals develop a disease characterized by kidney failure.

Several publications have noted that areas with high cattle densities have higher disease prevalence than urban areas.

E. coli O157 does not make cattle sick. However, cattle are widely regarded as the primary reservoir of this virulent human pathogen. A study conducted on beef cow-calf farms in Ontario in 2009 found E. coli O157 on 52% of the farms surveyed.

Population health studies done in Walkerton, Ontario since the 2000 outbreak have shown an increased risk of kidney damage, post-infection irritable bowel syndrome (PI-IBS), diabetes, neurologic injuries, hypertension and cardiovascular disease in residents who were exposed to E. coli O157.

Bioniche Life Sciences – a Canadian company located in Belleville, Ontario – has the only fully licensed E. coli O157 vaccine in the world. This is the same strain of E. coli that killed seven people in Walkerton, Ontario when it contaminated the town’s drinking water system in 2000.

The Canadian primary and secondary healthcare costs due to infection with E. coli O157 have been calculated to be in excess of $200 million annually.

Approximately 100,000 cases of human infection with the E. coli O157 organism are reported each year in North America.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 61% of human illnesses from E. coli O157 are foodborne and 15% are caused by consuming contaminated drinking water. Ground beef (33%) and produce (34%) are the two most frequent causes of foodborne illnesses.

Human illnesses stemming from E. coli O157 have been linked to a variety of sources like; ground beef, spinach, bean sprouts, unpasteurized milk, cookie dough, walnuts, apple juice, water, and direct contact with animals at petting zoos, farms and fairs.