Japan Battles E.coli “Epidemic”

Japan Battles E.coli “Epidemic”

By Lisa A. Karter

Sakai, Osaka, Japan–After seven deaths and more than 9,000 people struck ill by the deadly E.coli 0157:H7 virus, the Japanese government has mandated new contamination control precautions in its food handling systems to stop the spread of the pathogen.

Officially declaring the E.coli an “epidemic,” the Japanese government has invoked a century-old law that has not been used in 20 years. Japan`s Health and Welfare Ministry is requiring people suspected of carrying the E.coli 0157:H7 bacteria–even those thought to be at risk of exposure–to be examined by doctors. In addition, contamination control measures have been adopted to include daily disinfecting of school kitchens with anti-bacterial sprays, and food-handling workers are being required to be fully garbed in frocks, gloves, face masks, caps and other cleanroom garments. Because the original outbreak of E.coli occurred among school children who ate contaminated lunches,– children are now also being washed down at school.

The Japanese Education Ministry has ordered school kitchens to extend the period they keep food samples from more than 72 hours to more than two weeks to try and trace the source of the pathogen. Meanwhile, the Health and Welfare Ministry inserted a leaflet in newspapers instructing people on how to protect themselves from E.coli. At press time, the source of the outbreak had not been determined and investigators were trying to determine whether radish sprouts and raw meat were the causes.

E.coli 0157:H7 was first discovered in 1982 in the guts and feces of cows. It is also found in raw meat, such as ground hamburger, but is killed if meat is cooked to 155 degrees. However, if cooked hamburger comes into contact with infected raw meat, it can also carry the bacterium. In 1993 in the U.S., four children died and hundreds of people became ill from E.coli. Two of those children, and a large number of people who also became infected ,did not come into contact with contaminated meat, but became ill from cross contamination.

The United States has stepped up its attempt to control food poisoning by adopting new meat inspection regulations. In July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially announced that meat packers and slaughterhouses will be required to establish Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), the government`s program for food safety. They will identify each “point” in the process where contamination can occur. In addition, they must test for E.coli, and federal inspectors will conduct tests for salmonella. Companies will have about 42 months to set up their own HACCP systems. n


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