Imagine the perfect Valentine’s Day dinner…you and your sweetheart surrounded by hearts, flowers, music and romance at the fanciest restaurant in the city. You’re eating a decadent beef dinner, complete with dessert and wine. It’s the perfect night with the one you love—until you realize you might be paying with your health as well as your money.
Many people have heard of E. coli 0157:H7, and know that it is a very harmful bacteria coming from cattle fecal contamination and that it should be tested for and kept out of food. What they don’t know is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified six other sister strains of E. coli that have also been associated with foodborne illness and death. These other strains are NOT labeled as adulterants by the USDA and are NOT a part of their testing program. They could easily be lurking in your Valentine’s Day meal—or any of your other meals for that matter.
S.T.O.P.—Safe Tables Our Priority has worked with many families that have had loved ones get sick from the six other non-0157 strains of E. coli. State health departments have been required to report cases of non-O157 strains to the CDC for 10 years, but these strains are still not tested for by the USDA in beef. For years, S.T.O.P. has been asking USDA to have these non-0157 strains tested for in our nation’s food supply.
When I think of the people I have encountered through S.T.O.P. that have been sickened, or had a family member sickened by these other strains of E. coli, it astounds me that USDA has not started testing for them. I have met people like S.T.O.P. member Dana Boner who lost her 14-year-old daughter Kayla to E. coli O111 in 2007. She says that “USDA policy makes it impossible to find. You can’t find what you’re not looking for. While it’s too late for Kayla, it’s not too late for others.”
This Valentine’s Day, the USDA should give the American public a life-saving gift: declare other life-threatening strains of E. coli as adulterants in meat. In the meantime, be mindful of what you eat and make sure your meat is properly cooked and handled before you and your sweetheart share a special Valentine’s Day meal. To receive timely information on food recalls and outbreaks to protect all of your loved ones, sign up for our S.T.O.P. E-alerts which are delivered right to your e-mail inbox.