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Biology 103
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

Cook Your Meat, Please!

Joanna Ferguson

Bacteria is found everywhere. It is in our mouths, on our hands, floating in the ocean, sitting on branches of trees, hanging out underneath the bed. Bacteria such as cyanobacteria were and still are essential for the survival of life on earth. Cyanobacteria produces oxygen; so much that without its existense, there might be no oxygen for animals to breath. (1) Bacteria were first discovered by Antony van Leeuwenhoek in 1683. Van Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch scientist who made some of the first observations of bacteria, and recorded them, using microscopes he made himself. (2) Currently, we make a big deal about bacteria, creating anti-bacterial soap to combat our evil mini friends. However, as many people do know, not all bacteria is bad for humans. In fact, most is not bad at all. There are many kinds that do cause disease, though, and these should not be overlooked in any backlash against society telling us to rid ourselves of bacteria. There are very dangerous sorts of bacteria, some of which we have a certain amount of protection against, especially if we take the proper precautions when engaging in potentially harmful situations. Some diseases that are caused by different sorts of harmful bacteria are: pneumonia, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, whooping cough, diptheria, and tetanus. There are many other, lesser known diseases also caused by bacteria. One such disease is hemolytic uremic syndrome(HUS), which is caused by the ingestion of the bacteria Escherichia coli 0157:H7. This is a bacteria everyone should watch out for.

"Nancy Donley['s] six-year-old son, Alex, was infected with the bug [E. coli 0157:H7] in July of 1993 after eating a tainted hamburger. His illness began with abdominal cramps that seemed as severe as labor pains. It progressed to diarrhea that filled a hospital toilet with blood. Doctors frantically tried to save Alex's life, drilling holes in his skull to relieve pressure, inserting tubes in his chest to keep him breathing, as the Shiga toxins destroyed internal organs. He became ill on a Tuesday night, the night after his mother's birthday, and was dead by Sunday afternoon. Toward the end, Alex suffered hallucinations and dementia, no longer recognizing his mother or father. Portions of his brain had been liquefied." - Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (3)

Hemolytic uremic syndrome(HUS)is a disease caused mostly by E. coli 0157:H7. It is a disease of the intestinal system, sometimes causing sever kidney diseases. The disease basically shreds the inside of the body, causing diarrhea with blood in it and severe abdominal cramping. There is no known cure for the disease; all that can be done is to let it run its course. Blood tranfusions are possible and sometimes necessary. After surviving the initial onslaught of the disease, the possibility of kidney disease leading to kidney failure is high, with ten to thirty percent of children who get past the initial stages being further victimized by kidney problems. Children are most affected by this disease when they are younger than five; it is one of the leading causes of kidney disease and/or failure among children. HUS kills five to ten percent of the children it severly affects.(4) Alex Donley, above, was a victim of this rare disease.
This horrible death could have been prevented. E. coli 0157:H7 is carried in the intestines of cattle. Cattle and humans can carry this particular strand of bacteria without being harmed by it. If it is ingested, a human can still survive, with little to no symptoms of disease. However, especially in young children, the bacteria can "release a powerful toxin called a 'verotoxin' or 'Shiga toxin' that attacks the lining of the intestine."(Schlosser, 199) The hamburger Alex ate was probably not properly cooked. The meat had been contaminated with E. coli 0157:H7, and Alex contracted HUS from it. Escherichia coli bacterias are naturally found in human digestive systems; they help us digest our food. However, certain strands, such as 0157:H7, can be horrendously horrible for humans.
Escherichia coli 0157:H7 was first found to be a catalyst for disease in 1982. Most of the cases of the bacteria in humans come from their consumption of tainted meat. It is most often found in ground beef. A single ground beef patty can contain parts from up to 100 different cattle; if one of these cattle has a deadly bacteria, the that patty, as well as the others that cattle is now part of, will have the same bacteria. One infected cattle's meat has the potential to reach hundreds. However, just because the bacteria is there does not mean someone will die from it or become sick from it. The potential for disease, for the bacteria's existence, is always there, as long as the bacteria exists. Precautions should be taken to avoid it, even if the chance of it actually being in the meat is very small.
There are several microbiological ways to isolate E. coli 0157:H7 from food. According to the FDA, "isolates of 0157:H7 do not ferment sorbitol and are negative with the MUG assay; therefore, these criteria are commonly used for selective isolation." Most bacterias do ferment sorbitol in tests in which meat (or other items being tested) is placed with sorbitol, for the purpose of determining whether the sorbitol ferments. If the sorbitol ferments, the meat is said to be good. If not, the fermentation is then analyzed. MUG is a test that checks for coliform and E. coli bacteria. The FDA is working on new, faster ways to determine whether meat is contaminated. (5)
It is very, very simple to avoid this disease and this bacteria. The easiest way to avoid getting sick from eating food we like is to cook hamburgers to well done. It is not enough to merely brown the outside of a burger; the bacteria has to be heated up to 160 degrees in order to be killed. We live in a society with the capabilities to prevent this harmful strand from ever entering the human body. With our abilities to cook meat, we should be able to stop it. With our abilities to sterilize meat, we should be able to stop it. With out abilities to check meat for bacterias that are harmful, we should be able to stop it. However, because humans are fallable too fallable this bacteria is allowed to continue killing children and harming adults. We need to cook our meat, we need to check our meat, we need to sterilize (to the best of our ability) our meat. The bacteria is not only found in meat, but any food product that has had the potential of being near cattle feces, which on large farms is quite a few. A simple check or two for harmful bacterias solves the problem. We just need to be a little more careful. Death as a cause of E. coli 0157:H7 is ridiculous and unnecessary.

WWW Resources

3. Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001
6. Cattle/ndhep/decoli2.pdf>

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