Warnings have been issued to remind consumers of the importance of preparing food safely, particularly in relation to washing mixed salad leaves. Public Health England has put out these guidelines following a recent outbreak of E Coli which is believed to have infected more than 150 people and caused two deaths in the UK. Although the organisation is still working to find out the exact cause of this outbreak, there are serious concerns that it has been triggered by the incorrect preparation of salad leaves.


The outbreak

Currently, Public Health England is aware of 151 confirmed cases of E Coli. This includes 144 cases in England – most prominently in the South West of the country, six cases in Wales and one in Scotland. The majority of E Coli patients in these cases required hospital care and two have died.

E Coli is a potentially fatal disease, contracted by consuming the bacteria found in the faeces of farm cattle. One of the biggest problems around the bacteria is that it can sometimes go undetected in food and water, even after being subjected to vigorous testing.

According to the organisation, rocket leaves which have been imported from Mediterranean countries are some of the biggest risks. In order to combat the problem, health officials have advised some supermarkets to cease the sale of mixed salad bags which include rocket leaves from this area.


What are the dangers?

Some patients with E Coli will display very little or no symptoms of the disease. However, those who do exhibit signs will usually begin noticing them around three days after they have consumed the contaminated food. This is a rough estimate, however, as symptoms have been known to lie dormant for up to two weeks.

The main symptoms that could suggest someone is suffering from E Coli are nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, a high temperature, and severe abdominal pains. E Coli can be extremely serious and even life threatening. In some cases, it can lead to kidney failure (children under the age of five are most at risk of this).

Anyone with concerns that they are suffering from E Coli is encouraged to contact their doctor and use our GP ‘out of hours’ service if they are taken ill outside of normal surgery times.


Preparing food safely

The best way to combat E Coli is to take measures to prevent it entirely. This can be done by using proper food safety at all times. The warning issued by Public Health England focuses on the preparation of salads and vegetables. All salad must be thoroughly washed before consumption, except in cases where food has been labelled as ‘ready to eat.’

Camilla Schneideman, the managing director of the Leiths Cookery School in London, suggests that the most effective way to wash salad is to submerge it in cold water for up to 20 minutes to dislodge any soil deposits and then to rinse it for a second time.

The health warning also reminds people of the importance of washing hands after using the bathroom, touching pets, and before and after handling food.