Illinois E. Coli Outbreak Tied to El Rancherito Restaurant

E. coli has sickened at least six people who ate at an Illinois restaurant earlier this month. Now, health officials in that state are asking anyone who ate at that restaurant and became ill shortly after to get in contact with them.

The Effingham County Health Department says that it has confirmed six cases of E. coli poisoning among patrons of an El Rancherito Restaurant in Effingham. All of the victims visited the restaurant between September 11 and 13, 2007. One of those infected is still in the hospital. Health officials have not been able to pinpoint the source of the E. coli in the restaurant. The Effingham County Health Department is asking other patrons of the El Rancherito Restaurant who experienced or are experiencing E. coli-type symptoms to contact the department immediately.

E. coli is a common bacteria found in the intestines of most mammals, including humans. However, the E. coli O157:H7 strain is a deadly form of the bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to E. coli O157:H7. In some rare instances, the disease can progress to the point of kidney failure and death. While most people who suffer from E. coli poisoning recover within 7 to 10 days, extreme cases can require blood transfusions and dialysis treatments.

It could take some time before Effingham health officials discover exactly what caused the E. coli outbreak at the El Rancherito Restaurant, because the bacteria can find its way into most foods. Meat products are likely to become contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 during the slaughtering process. Cooking meats to an internal temperature of 160-degrees will kill E. coli bacteria. Produce, however, is another matter. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated in the fields if they come into contact with E. coli contaminated water or soil. Or they may be contaminated during processing if workers do not employ proper hand washing practices. Because E. coli cannot be easily washed away, vegetables that are typically eaten raw, like lettuce, can lead to outbreaks of the disease. Earlier this summer, E. coli-tainted shredded lettuce was blamed for another outbreak at Little Rosie’s Taqueria in Huntsville, Alabama that sickened 18 people and killed a 48-year-old woman.

Restaurant outbreaks of E. coli are common, but they are not the only way the illness is transmitted. This summer, several companies recalled thousands of pounds of meat that had been blamed for various E. coli outbreaks around the country. And earlier this month, the Dole Food Company recalled fresh bagged salad mix after it tested positive for E. coli bacteria. Though no illnesses have been reported from that Dole recall, nearly a year before, the company had recalled fresh bagged spinach that was implicated in an E. coli outbreak that sickened 200 people, killing three.

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