The recent outbreak of E. coli 0157 should raise awareness among Nova Scotians about the safety of their food supply. However, many will continue to be creatures of habit and fail to take the precautions that could guarantee their health, while fewer still will ask just where their food iscoming from.
Nova Scotia has yet to determine the exact source of the E. coli 0157 outbreak that has affected 10 people in this province but admits that at least five cases here are likely linked to those in neighbouring New Brunswick and Ontario.
It’s quite possible that produce was infected by the E. coli bacteria somewhere in the processing chain and that consumers unknowingly digested the product, only to fall ill in the following days.
E. coli scares are nothing new. They happen from time to time and they can be worrisome, especially in light of the Walkerton incident in Ontario more than a decade ago when several people fell ill and died after drinking water that was contaminated by this same strain of E. coli.
Public health officials here have been quick to reassure people there is no need to panic. And, for the most part, people have been calm – even if those same public health officials had to issue an advisory reminding people of the difference between the more common norovirus and the more deadly E. coli.
At the same time, it has provided them with an opportunity to remind the public of precautions they can take to reduce the spread of E. coli including peeling all raw vegetables and fruits before eating, thoroughly cooking all meat, cleaning cutting boards and other surfaces that come intocontact with raw meat and making sure all dairy products consumed are pasteurized.
And then there’s washing hands. Believe it or not, there is a large segment of the population who fails to wash their hands correctly when preparing food, fighting illness and after using the restroom. It should be no surprise tthat illness can easily spread.
The outbreak also raises the question about the source of our food and what steps are taken to make sure it’s safe to eat. In recent years there have been scares surrounding everything from California spinach to Alberta beef.
Meanwhile, the local farming industry has been decimated and unable to respond to a community emergency should the food supply be threatened by a national crisis or outbreak.
It’s something government needs to be aware of as it works with the agricultural community to find solutions before the last of our family farms disappears from the landscape.