Beware of the green Cucumber

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The European Union is on its knees not due to any financial turmoil, but because of a small vegetable. We were told as children that vegetables are good for you. Also that cucumber is an excellent vegetable to keep our body hydrated and cool during the summer. Of late, cucumber is not keeping up to its reputation.

EU has witnessed an outbreak of e-coli that has killed at least 16 people around Europe. Germany has suffered the worst of the E.coli outbreak, with as many as 1,200 cases reported. Instances have also been reported in Sweden, Hungary and the Czech Republic with a handful of cases in Britain, all involving German citizens.

The German outbreak has caused cases of haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), a serious complication arising from a strain of E. coli bacteria that produces a toxic substance called verocytotoxin. HUS occurs when the verocytotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC) infection affects the blood, kidneys and, in some cases, the nervous system. It requires hospital treatment and can be fatal. Milder forms of infection with this bacterium usually clear within seven days without treatment. The strain of E. coli involved is called O104. It is reported that 70% of adults were women. The number of severe cases of HUS is unusual and the affected age groups are not typical. HUS as a complication of E. coli infection is generally more common in children.

Early reports identified fresh produce from Spain as the source of the outbreak, with some products from the country withdrawn from shelves. But Spanish authorities said the accusations were unfounded and premature. This was backed by the German government as it released a statement that it has ruled out the produce from the country but is not sure of the source of the contamination.

However the damage has been done. A report of contamination of any vegetable anywhere in Europe, would definitely hit sales in every country as people buy alternatives.
Due to this epidemic local part of the German people have a serious food safety concerns. According to the German Bild 28, released a public opinion survey, nearly 40% of respondents said being afraid to eat raw cucumbers and tomatoes and other vegetables.

Experts recommend consumers Shensi raw tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce and other vegetables, vegetable production and marketing in Germany is very much affected. 27, a spokesman for the German Farmers Association said, according to preliminary estimates, the epidemic caused by the daily economic losses to farmers of about 200 million euros.
Retailers in Ireland have removed Spanish cucumbers from their shelves just as precaution. The food poisoning outbreak has come at a very bad time for Irish cucumber producers, whose crop is just coming to the market. Vegetable growers fear the scare may lead to other vegetables and fruit sales becoming affected.

Cucumber contamination

E-coli is a more common bacteria that one may think. People carry harmless strains of E. coli in their intestines, but can acquire harmful strains if they eat food that has been in contact with animal or human faeces. These harmful strains of E. coli may then be transferred to other people if an infected person prepares food after going to the toilet and not washing their hands adequately.

In this particular case, it is unclear how the cucumbers became contaminated, but it may have been the result of animal manure products being used as fertilisers or the presence of animals on the farms in which the cucumbers were grown.

Symptoms of food poisoning

The most common symptoms of food poisoning are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. People may also experience stomach cramps and abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, muscle pains and chills. In the German outbreak, bloody diarrhoea was a symptom.

For general food poisoning (from any type of bacteria), you should see a doctor if:

vomiting lasts for more than two days
it is not possible to keep liquids down for more than a day
diarrhoea lasts for more than three days
there is blood in your vomit or stools
you experience seizures, fits, slurred speech or double vision
you are dehydrated (symptoms include dry mouth, sunken eyes and being unable to pass urine)

Protecting ourselves

  • It is important to wash your hands before preparing food and after handling raw meat.
  • The German outbreak highlights the importance of washing all vegetables.
  • Peeling and cooking fruit and vegetables can also remove these germs.
  • Chopping boards and work surfaces can harbour germs, and it is especially important to use separate chopping boards and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods and to wash them well between uses.
    It is important to cook food thoroughly, particularly meat.
  • If you are reheating food, make sure it is piping hot all the way through and do not reheat food more than once.
  • Cooked leftovers should be cooled quickly, ideally within one or two hours, and then put in the fridge or freezer once cooled.
  • E-coli may be reported in the EU, but we living in this part of the world need to do our share to protect us, our loved ones and our beloved economy.
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