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Posts Tagged ‘E. coli’

Poop Happens

By Diane Wright Hirsch, UConn Extension Educator


hand washing

Photo: Clemson Extension

Farm animals poop. Why should that matter to me…a frequent farm visitor?

We all poop. Dogs poop, cats poop, cows and even goats poop. It is a natural process that rids our bodies of indigestible food and waste products. Unfortunately, it is also a way to carry pathogens (the kind of germs that make us sick) out of our intestines.

E. coli O157:H7 is one of those pathogens. The O157:H7 is only one strain or serotype of the Escherichia coli bacteria family. In fact most E. coli are not harmful to humans and are found living comfortably in our intestinal tract.

However, E. coli O157:H7 can cause an intestinal disease in humans that can have disastrous consequences. Symptoms of this disease include watery or bloody diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. The illness can be mild to severe. Many food-borne illnesses share these symptoms, so the unaware may simply ignore them or write them off as a 24-hour bug. But, in the very young, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, the result of an infection with O157:H7 can lead to severe problems—including kidney failure—and even death.

So why should this matter to a farm visitor who may wander up to a goat or sheep or cow, hug them, pet them, even kiss them? The problem is that this human pathogen can be present in the intestinal tract of these animals. They may shed the bacteria in their poop, but still appear healthy and clean. The bacteria can easily contaminate the animals’ skin, fur, feathers, and the areas where they live and roam. If the goats or cows are producing milk that is consumed unpasteurized or their milk is being made into an unpasteurized cheese, then these food products could also carry the pathogen.

There is something you can do to protect yourself and your family. When visiting a farm, a petting zoo, or even a county fair, always look for a hand washing facility after sharing some face time with the animals. While a hand sanitizer may provide a minimal amount of protection, pathogens like these require the full hand wash treatment. Rinse hands under running warm water, soap and scrub hands for at least 30 seconds, to create a good amount of lather, including between fingers, under finger nails and up past the wrists, then rinse with warm water. If the farm does not have a hand wash station or public bathroom facility, maybe you should visit a different farm.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control at:

Safe Food Handling from Farm to Table

Written by Patsy Evans for Naturally@UConn and originally posted on October 14, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 3.38.24 PMHearing the word ‘outbreak’ makes many people anxious. E. coliO157:H7, spinach, 2006. Salmonella, peanut butter, 2009. Listeria, cantaloupe, 2011. Diane Hirsch, UConn Extension educator for food safety, easily lists previous food-borne pathogen outbreaks. But, fear does not paralyze her.

Instead, she works in classrooms and on farms to make sure that locally produced food, which ends up on tables in New England, is as safe as possible. Her mission: “safe food handling from farm to table.” Her audience includes growers who put produce in boxes on their farms, commercial artisanal cheese makers and home cooks who preserve food in their kitchens.

With the help of over $82,000 in USDA grants, Hirsch trains farmers to follow Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and processors to develop food safety plans. She labors to see farm products that are, according to USDA, “produced, packed, handled, and stored in the safest manner possible to minimize risks of microbial food safety hazards.”

Because of past outbreaks, grocery store chains that buy food from farmers are putting more pressure on them to follow food safety guidelines and submit to voluntary audits. Hirsch estimates that 12 to 14 Connecticut farmers are currently GAP audited. She wants her training programs and farm visits to increase that number by “helping people do what they need to do” in reducing the possibility of contamination and preparing for audits.

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