This article belongs to Joe is Fine, Are you? column.

So what is E coli? Believe it or not it is a necessary evil in humans as it provides the vitamin K needed for good health. E coli is found in the large intestine and is also the most widely studied organism in biology. Its cells have the capacity to divide every twenty to thirty minutes thus allowing it to spread very fast.

The strain that is dangerous to humans is E Coli O157:H7. This is a leading cause of food borne illness. In a 1999 study there were 73,000 cases of infection and 61 deaths reported each year in the US.

E Coli can be spread by improper meat handling procedures in the slaughter houses. It can also be spread by not washing ones hands after handling meat further creating an environment for cross contamination. It can also be spread from human to human if the infected person doesn't practice proper hand washing while letting the bacteria run its course in their system. Also it can be spread to non blood borne organisms like vegetables and fruits if these are prepared on the same cutting board and with the same knife that was used to prepare the meat for that evening's meal.

This year so far there have been ten cases of E coli contamination reported to the USDA. October seemed to be the peak of reporting with five cases of voluntary recalls due to E coli. That is an average of one a week Incedentaly each one of those recalls were ground beef recalls.

People who experience bloody stools should seek medical attention at once as this is usually an indicator of E Coli poisoning. The CDC discourages treating the infected person with antibiotics as most antibiotic therapies can lead to kidney complications. They also discourage the use of antidiarrheal agents such as Imodium AD. The long term effects of the infection include blindness, paralysis, persistent kidney failure and having a part of the bowel removed.

Sometimes eating food can be a gamble. It's like when you play bingo online, you never know what numbers you're going to get. That's why it's important to be picky about the
foods you eat.

In the most sever case a condition called HUS hemolytic uremic syndrome can be a possibility leading to treatment in an intensive care unit with blood transfusions and dialysis.

So what can be done to prevent the spread of the organism? Changes in the production of meat while still in the slaughter house for starters.

Both the CDC and the USDA recommend the following guidelines at home to prevent being infected with E Coli:

1. Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly

2. If you are served under cooked meat while dining out send it back for further cooking

3. Avoid spreading harmful bacteria in your kitchen

4. Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider

5. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water, especially those that will not be cooked

6. Drink municipal water that has been treated with chlorine or another effective disinfectant

7. Avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming

8. Make sure people with diarrhea wash their hands carefully with soap and water after bowel movements to reduce the risk of spreading infection.

In conclusion it is important to handle your food safely at home because you can't be 100% sure that harmful bacteria haven't been introduced into the food you have brought home from the store.