Health Dept. issues advisory on E.coli prevention

COVINGTON -- The Georgia Department of Public Health has issued a new public advisory in the wake of five cases of E. coli being confirmed in Georgia.

Cases of E. coli were reported in Coweta, Forsyth, Cherokee and Cobb counties earlier this month. Of the five Georgia cases, one was sent to the hospital and all have recovered.

Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, Commissioner of the Department of Public Health and State Health Officer, reports that there have been no new cases in two weeks.

"The Department of Public Health continues to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but at this moment, no source to this outbreak has been found," said Department of Public Health spokeswoman Suleima Salgado.

Despite not having nailed down the source of the contamination, the Department of Health is recommending consumers take extra care in preparing fruits and vegetables.

"Paying close attention when selecting fruits and vegetables, as well as when preparing meals, can keep foodborne illnesses at bay," said Fitzgerald.

The Department of Health recommends adhering to the following food safety basics for fruits and vegetables:

-- When shopping, look for produce that is not damaged or bruised and make sure that pre-cut produce is refrigerated or surrounded by ice.

-- Rinse all fruits and vegetables before eating. This recommendation also applies to produce with rinds or skins that are not eaten. Rinse produce just before preparing or eating to avoid premature spoilage.

-- Remove the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage before washing. Produce with firm skin, such as potatoes, may require rubbing with a vegetable brush while rinsing under clean running water to remove all soil. Dry fruits and vegetables with a clean paper towel.

-- Clean all surfaces and utensils with soap and hot water, including cutting boards, peelers, counter tops and knives that will touch fresh produce. Wash hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling fresh fruits and vegetables.

-- Keep produce separate from raw foods like meat, poultry, and seafood, in your shopping cart, grocery bags and in your refrigerator. Throw away any produce that will not be cooked if it has touched raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. Do not use the same cutting board without cleaning with hot water and soap before and after preparing fresh fruits and vegetables.

-- Refrigerate all cut, peeled, or cooked produce within two hours. After a certain time, harmful bacteria may grow on produce and increase the risk of foodborne illness.