E. Coli Outbreak In Norway Serves A Warning

Lessons from the water contamination case in Askøy that sickened 2,000 people show the importance of food safety, hygenic systems and preparedness

E. Coli

“Every Year, Unsafe Contaminated Water Sickens about 1 Billion People”

A recent outbreak of the bacteria E. Coli in the community drinking water near Norway’s second largest city of Bergen is reminding local municipalities and the food industry of the importance that safety systems play in keeping the public healthy.

Every year, unsafe contaminated water sickens about 1 billion people, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, a study published in The Lancet medical journal found that water pollution caused 1.8 million deaths in 2015. 

For the food industry, in particular, the prevention of E. Coli  (also known as escherichia coli) is a high priority as it is not just water that is susceptible. E. Coli can be traced back to undercooked ground beef, vegetables grown in cow manure or washed in contaminated water and fruit juice that isn't E. Coli pasteurized, to name a few.

What Is E. Coli 

 

The E. Coli bacteria typically lives in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. Coli are harmless and are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. Some E. Coli are pathogenic, however, and can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of the intestinal tract. The types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons.

Symptoms of E. Coli

An E. Coli infection can commonly cause bad stomach cramps, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea, starting two to eight days after you've swallowed the bacteria. These effects can be unpleasant and knock you for a loop. However, the Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 can have much worse side effects. Some infections may progress to Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a potentially life-threatening condition where the small blood vessels in your kidneys become damaged and inflamed. The resulting damaged red blood cells and debris then clog up your kidneys, causing your kidneys to malfunction and fail. Antibiotics won't help treat E. coli O157:H7 infections and may even increase the risk of HUS, a severe complication of the E. coli infection

The E. Coli Case In Norway

While low-income communities are disproportionately at risk because their homes are often closest to the most polluting industries, even wealthy nations like Norway are not immune to water pollution. There is always the chance of accidental or illegal releases from sewage treatment facilities, as well as runoff from farms and urban areas, contribute harmful pathogens to waterways. 

Waterborne pathogens, in the form of disease-causing bacteria and viruses from human and animal waste, are a major cause of illness from contaminated drinking water. Some diseases spread by unsafe water include cholera, giardia, and typhoid. 

Although we do not know the exact cause of the outbreak in Norway, here are the facts that have been released:

  • The water pollution has affected more than 2,000 of the 28, 821 people who live on Askøy
  • 16 children and 60 adults from Askøy have been hospitalized 
  • Two people are believed to have died as a result of the pollution: a one-year-old child and a 72-year-old woman
  • Traces of E. Coli were found in a mountain pool attached to the drinking water plant in Askøy 
  • The drinking water may have been polluted through a leak that allowed bacteria into water lines, but the final culprit has yet to be conclusively determined.

E Coli And The Food Industry

For the food industry, in particular, the prevention of pathogens such as E. Coli is a priority. According to the World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology, the emergence of Escherichia coli O157 as a foodborne pathogen has had a significant impact on the food industry. It possesses a number of undesirable characteristics that combine to make it one of the most serious threats to food safety in recent years. The widespread and sporadic occurrence in the gastrointestinal tracts of cattle, sheep, man and many other species, sometimes in the absence of any disease, and the complex nature of its ecology mean that it is not feasible to easily eradicate this serovar. 

In order to control and minimise foodborne disease by these organisms, it has been necessary to change primary production, processing, retailing and consumer-handling practices. Despite these new control measures, foodborne disease outbreaks caused by these microorganisms continue to occur and are accompanied by an increase in the number of cases of illness in many countries, according to the journal.

Food Industry Prevention Methods 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), everyone can contribute to making food safe. Here are some examples of effective actions

Policy-makers

  • build and maintain adequate food systems and infrastructures (e.g. laboratories) to respond to and manage food safety risks along the entire food chain, including during emergencies;
  • foster multi-sectoral collaboration among public health, animal health, agriculture and other sectors for better communication and joint action;
  • integrate food safety into broader food policies and programmes (e.g. nutrition and food security);
  • think globally and act locally to ensure the food produce domestically be safe internationally.

Food handlers And Consumers 

  • know the food they use (read labels on food package, make an informed choice, become familiar with common food hazards);
  • handle and prepare food safely, practicing the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food at home, or when selling at restaurants or at local markets;
  • grow fruits and vegetables using the WHO Five Keys to Growing Safer Fruits and Vegetables to decrease microbial contamination.


About Aquatiq

Aquatiq® provides complete food safety solutions and expertise to the global food industry, offering a holistic approach that includes consultation, equipment and hygiene systems. Aquatiq offers food safety courses, certifications, audits as well as specialized chemistry for food processing and mechanical industries. Aquatiq does what it takes to ensure the production and distribution of safe food for companies around the world. 

Contact us for expertise on how to prevent E. Coli and bacteria outbreaks in food factories.