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E. coli outbreak in France linked to raw milk cheese

French food safety investigators have formed a clear link between an E. coli outbreak earlier this year, which affected at least 15 children, and cheese made from unpasteurized milk.

According to Food Safety News, 15 children between the ages of one and five were infected after eating the cheese. Of those, 12 were found to be infected by the strain E. coli O26, and one of those children passed away.

In the reported cases, those affected were reported to have recently eaten reblochon, a soft cheese made from raw, or unpasteurized, milk.

Pasteurization is important in food safety, because it kills foodborne pathogens. It’s a simple process: heating the food product to a very high temperature for a period of time. Unpasteurized milk has been shown, in a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to be 840 times more likely than pasteurized milk to make you sick. Bacteria left alive in raw milk can survive the cheesemaking process.

The investigation into the French outbreak is being conducted by the national public health administration and the Institute Pasteur in Paris (which is named for Louis Pasteur, the French microbiologist who invented pasteurization). More than 350 tons of cheese have been recalled so far.

E. coli O26

Perhaps the most dangerous effect caused by this E. coli strain and others (like the infamous E. coli O157:H7) is Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a kidney condition that happens when red blood cells are destroyed and block the kidneys’ filtering system. Children run a higher risk of being impacted by HUS.

Certain strains of E. coli are harmless and exist naturally in the body. But 026 and O157:H7, along with other strains, produce Shiga toxin, which enters the bloodstream to destroy red blood cells, leading to HUS. The strains that create this toxin are called STEC, short for Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

Symptoms of HUS include vomiting, bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, chills and headaches. People impacted might form bruises more easily. Not all infections with E. coli O26 lead to HUS, however — diarrhea and cramps may also accompany typical food poisoning cases and pass after a few days without treatment. Talking to a doctor if you or a family member has these symptoms is always wise.

 

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