A new outbreak of the potentially deadly O157:H7 strain of E.coli linked to celery from California's Taylor Farm Pacific has spread to 18 states and involves over 150,000 products. This bacteria calls the calf's GI tract home but can proliferate in almost any food substance it contaminates.
That this outbreak, from a single type of food, involves such a wide swath of products is illustrative of the worse aspects of food-borne outbreaks: their dissemination. Also, the fact that one need only ingest about 100 bacteria to become ill heightens the risk. Celery is a component of many other pre-packaged products including sandwiches, salads, stuffing, and vegetable mixes. That's why this outbreak has touched major corporations such as Target, Walmart, and Starbucks. Tracing the ultimate fate of all the contaminated celery is extremely cumbersome and wide-ranging.
This strain of E.coli, which is classified as a Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC), is not as benign as other food-borne infections for it has the capacity to cause kidney failure via a toxin it secretes in up to 10% of cases, especially children. This complication is known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) and it has occurred in 2 of the 19 individuals infected during this outbreak. Though there are no deaths have been reported in this latest outbreak, 12% of those with HUS progress to death or become dialysis-dependent. Antibiotics are ineffective and, in fact, can heighten the chance of HUS occurring as toxin secretion increases when the bacteria is under stress. Treatment is largely supportive though some experimental treatments are in trials.
So for those dieters, buffalo wing eaters, and rabbits who chew on celery, maybe try a pickle instead.