It seems like every time you turn on the news there's another food recall. If you check the FDA food recall list, there are literally dozens of products listed at any given time. Big gatherings where food sits out for hours – for instance, potlucks – often end up with people ill from some degree of food poisoning. There are ways you can help protect yourself from salmonella and e coli naturally.
Note: This article contains advice on general food safety and boosting your immune system. It is for general information purposes only.
If you are experiencing severe pain, vomiting, diarrhea or other complications, please consult your healthcare practitioner immediately! I am not a doctor, I am only sharing what works for me and my family.
- Know Your Pathogens
- Introduce Probiotics Before You Become Ill
- What Do I Do If I'm Already Sick?
- General Guidelines for Avoiding Salmonella and E Coli Poisoning
- Romaine Lettuce Recalls
Know Your Pathogens
The CDC states that:
“Most E. coli are harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some E. coli are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of the intestinal tract.”
The term “Salmonella” is used to cover roughly 2,000 similar types of bacteria, which vary in degrees of potential illness.
How do with get infected with the types of e coli or salmonella that make us sick? From the CDC:
“The types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons.”
Salmonella behaves in a similar manner – which is why we see illness outbreaks connected to food recalls.
According to WebMD, reptiles, baby chicks and ducklings, and small rodents are particularly likely to carry salmonella. Thorough hand washing should always follow handling these types of animals.
So why do some people get sick when exposed harmful bacteria, while other do not?
If you are exposed to a very large amount of a pathogen, your risks increase dramatically. Some strains of bacteria are also more virulent than others.
People with depressed or immature immune systems are also at greater risk, such as the very young, the very old, and those already dealing with illness or treatments that involve weakening the immune system, such as chemotherapy.
“It is not the germ that causes disease but the terrain in which the germ is found.”
The Biological Terrain Theory versus the Germ Theory of disease is more fully explained at Timeless Remedies, but basically it amounts to a belief that a susceptible body falls ills while a healthy body can resist illness, even when exposed to pathogens.
I have seen the effectiveness of this theory demonstrated within my own family.
We don't get sick very often, and when we do, it's generally fairly minor. We still always follow food safety rules! (See below.)
A digestive system filled with healthy bacteria is less hospitable to harmful bacteria. The article “What Are Probiotics” states:
- Probiotics reduce the levels of harmful bacteria such as E.Coli and Salmonella by producing metabolic end-products that inhibit or antagonize them. These compounds include hydrogen peroxide, lactic and acetic acids. **
- Inhibiting levels of microbial pathogens: L. Acidophilus may inhibit pathogens by lowering the pH in the intestines. The production of organic acids effectively lowers intestinal pH to a level that is beneficial to good bacteria and destructive to pathogens.
- Protecting the immune system. Some research ( see link at right) shows that L. Bulgaricus and L. Casei are the truly effective strains for this function.
- Preventing establishment of harmful fungus and parasites: L. Acidophilus and B. Bifidus aggressively attach themselves to the walls of the colon. In doing so, they may inhibit Candida albicans, bacteria and the parasite Giardia lamblia.
- Lowering levels of toxic by-products: Harmful bacteria can produce toxins, such as indole, skatole, and methane because of their metabolic reaction to certain foods. Reducing their numbers may lower toxin levels in the colon.
Introduce Probiotics Before You Become Ill
While I always consume probiotics during illness, maximum resistance to food-borne illness results from continually consuming live culture foods.
Indeed, some studies have shown that introducing certain probiotics after salmonella has already infected the body does not improve healing.
For recipes for probiotic foods, visit the “Live Culture Foods/Probiotics/Ferments” section of the Recipes page, and more about the role of probiotics in fighting illness in the post, “Preparing for Cold and Flu Season – Step #1- Probiotics“.
What Do I Do If I'm Already Sick?
***If you are experiencing severe pain, vomiting, diarrhea or other complications, please consult your healthcare practitioner immediately! I am not a doctor, I am only sharing what works for me and my family.***
If you have stomach flu type symptoms and are not sure if your illness is viral or bacterial in nature, you may want to consult this article on the “stomach flu”. (“Stomach flu” is not caused by the influenza virus, but other virus families.)
If you know that you are facing a bacterial illness, the book Herbal Antibiotics recommends the following:
Herbs for E. Coli treatment – Goldenseal, garlic, eucalyptus, cryptolepsis, juniper, acacia, sage, ginger, grapefuit seed extract
Herbs for Salmonella treatment – Garlic, eucalyptus, wormwood, juniper, goldenseal, sage, ginger, acacia, grapefruit seed extract, Terminalia spp., Punica spp.
Learn more about Herbal Antibiotics.
General Guidelines for Avoiding Salmonella and E Coli Poisoning
Salmonella.org gives the following USDA recommendations for avoiding salmonella, which are also good recommendations for avoiding any type of food poisoning:
- Wash Hands and Surfaces Often
- Wash your hands, cutting boards, dishes etc with hot soapy water before handling food.
- Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your refrigerator.
- Cook to Proper Temperatures, at least 160°F (72°C) internal temp
- Refrigerate Promptly
For instance, you can fill this Inflatable Salad Bar with ice to keep food cool.
I prefer wood cutting boards over plastic, as they are naturally antibacterial.
You can read more about the antibacterial properties of wooden cutting boards, as well as care instructions and additional kitchen food safety tips in the post, “Why Wooden Cutting Boards are Best“.
Romaine Lettuce Recalls
Do not eat raw greens contaminated with salmonella or e coli.
The source of the bacteria is the water that they use to water the plants, and CANNOT BE WASHED OFF, since it is inside the plant. Return or dispose of the greens, and clean areas (like the crisper drawer in the refrigerator) that they touched.
NOTE: Do not compost the romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli. (O157:H7), unless you have a very hot compost pile.
In a Facebook post dated 11/21/18, the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, states:
It takes temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit over 10 days to kill the particular strain of E. coli. (O157:H7) in the current romaine lettuce contamination.
While the composting process occasionally reaches, and sometimes exceeds, temperatures of 155 degrees Fahrenheit in the Borough’s open windrow composting method, there is no guarantee the processing will hit 160 degrees Fahrenheit for a full 10 days, especially in the winter.
This correlates to the results of a recent study that indicate some E coli may have increased heat resistance.
The article “Ground beef may need higher cooking temperature to be safe” notes that a suite of genes has been discovered that gives some E coli bacteria increased heat resistance. They refer to this as the locus of heat resistance, or LHR.
Approximately 2% of both pathogenic and non-pathogenic E coli carry this genetic trait. They are still working to determine updated cooking guidelines.
For safe home canning tips, please visit:
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Originally posted in 2011, updated in 2018.