Handwashing in school cited as factor in WI E. coli O157 outbreak

Yesterday I gave a talk to child nutrition directors and administrators about foodborne illness and creating a good food safety culture within their schools. During the session I Illness control measures extend beyond the traditional food channels (the cafeteria, lunch and breakfast programs) and into the restrooms, halls, classrooms and community events (like bake sales, gardens and socials). While food is a potential source of a problem, not having soap in the bathrooms or hot-holding correctly at a teacher-run event matters.
The example-of-the-day is an outbreak in Wisconsin, linked to at least one death and 12 illnesses. Health officials in WI have said that while they haven’t been able to pinpoint a source, a 3-month E. coli O157:H7 outbreak grew larger due to improper handwashing, and a classroom was a node for a new cluster.
Karen Herzog of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal writes,
Most of those sickened are children younger than 6, according to Green County Health Department Officer RoAnn Warden.
Two elementary school children from Monroe were hospitalized last week with
E. coli O157: H7 infections that officials confirmed were the same bacteria strain responsible for the deadly outbreak in this south-central Wisconsin county from mid-July through the first week of September, Warden said Thursday.
The first case in the outbreak was reported in mid-July, followed three weeks later by a second case and a cluster of seven more within several weeks of each other. Two people were hospitalized.
Then last week, three students in 4-year-old kindergarten and kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School in Monroe were confirmed to have the bacterial infection. Two of the three were hospitalized, Warden said. An adult in the same household as one of the three sickened schoolchildren also was confirmed this week to have an E. coli infection, Warden said. The adult has not been hospitalized.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.