A few years ago an E. coli breakout kept me from eating one of my favorite foods: spinach. I remember being stranded in Idaho Falls in the summer of 2006 and desperately looking over a menu at a local restaurant in search of something that would appease both my appetite and my vegetarian lifestyle. I swear my heart skipped a beat when I found a Pear Pecan salad made on a rich bed of spinach. I was excited to find a meatless entrée in this Podunk town. I smiled sweetly at the waiter and ordered my decadent salad. The waiter politely told me that they were unable to serve dishes containing spinach because of the E. coli breakout. Defeated, I ordered a cocktail and decided on a pasta dish sans-carne.

It turns out E. coli breakouts are on the rise again, and I am not too happy that I may have to more-heavily monitor my consumption of raw fruits and vegetables. In case you do not know, E. coli is an intestinal disorder that most commonly adversely affects individuals who consume raw plant foods that have been exposed to fecal matter. This disease does not originate from plants, as they lack intestines. Humans do not get plant diseases; they get diseases like E. coli from the exposure and improper contact of human and/or animal fecal matter.

Each year, animals are mass-produced as commodities of factory farms to feed our nation’s growing obsession with animal-flesh-consumption. Animals are bred, fed, and killed to feed and “nourish” a vast majority of our population who are affected with a phenomenon I like to refer to as Meat Fever. Due to Meat Fever, the amount of animals raised to today in factory farms account for over a billion tons of waste produced. This waste is often not disposed of properly, or is disposed into open-air cesspits that leak, thus getting into water sources that contaminate irrigation systems that are used to water our crops. Even with excessive washing and/or cooking of your fruits and vegetables you cannot necessarily get rid of E. coli that may have contaminated produce.

Recent research has suggested that even once you recover from an ailment like E. coli the illness may not be completely gone. Those who have suffered from E. coli, specifically children, can have side-effects appear up to 20 years later! Some of the problems developed are: kidney problems and failure, permanent brain damage, insulin-dependent diabetes, and high blood pressure. E. coli 0157:h7, the commonly known form of this bacterium, infects fewer than 100,000 Americans annually with less than 100 casualties. Sadly, other forms of E. coli exist that cause other health problems like Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) that can lead to hospitalization and/or death.

According to medical researchers from the University of Minnesota, there is a good chance your poultry, pork, and beef may have been exposed to fecal matter. In a recent experiment testing 1,000 samples of meat from various retail markets 69% of pork and beef, as well as 92% of poultry samples had evidence of fecal-contamination. This type of E. coli can harbor in a woman’s lower intestine then travel to the bladder and become UTIs. Over 99% of the meat, dairy, and eggs Americans consume are produced in Factory Farms. Even though many Factory Farms claim to be combating E. coli with antibiotics, E. coli still rages on. Mutations in the bacteria have begun and will continue to appear due to the use and abuse of antibiotics.

Factory Farms are a big obstacle in the fight to protect yourself and your loved ones from E. coli. Although efforts are being done to try to minimize some of the adverse effects of these environmentally unfriendly institutions, perhaps your best defense against E. coli is to educate yourself on how to reduce your chances of exposure. Here are some tips and facts that may help safeguard your lifestyle.

-Hannah Bybee