Avoiding Food-Borne Illness (Like E. Coli)

by Catherine Haug, June 7, 2011

With all the concern over illness and deaths in Germany and other Eurozone countries from an outbreak of a deadly strain of E. Coli bacteria, I thought it might be good to address how to protect yourself from food-borne illness. While this particular E.coli strain has not been found in the Americas, we have had our own problems with E. coli in the past, as well as other infectious microbes (such as staph and salmonella), and are likely to have more in the future.

In this post I discuss:

  • Buy local
  • Boost your immune System
  • Clean your fresh produce properly

1. Buy Local

Your best option is to grow & raise your own. If you are one who cannot do this (perhaps you don’t have the space or the time), your first and primary protection should be to buy local from growers you trust.

For the most part, the vectors responsible for E. coli and other outbreaks start with CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), which contaminate ground water and soil with the mutant bacteria from their urine and feces. This contamination then spreads to nearby farm fields as ground water is used to water the crops, or as the manure is used to fertilize soil.

Buying from a grower who is careful of his source of manure and water greatly reduces your risk of exposure to infectious mutant microbes. See the Farm Hands Map for local sources. Then visit the farmer to learn of his methods before deciding to buy his products.

Field-to-Fork Continuum

When you buy produce from a supermarket, you don’t know where it came from or how it was grown. You have very little control over what you get with what you eat. Mercola writes:

Public health agencies like the … FDA use the term “field-to-fork continuum” to describe the path any given food takes on the way to your plate, and during any of the following steps, contamination is possible:

  • Open field production
  • Harvesting
  • Field packing
  • Greenhouse production
  • Packinghouse or field packing
  • Repacking and other distribution operations
  • Fresh-cut/value-added processing
  • Food service and retail
  • Consumer

As you can see, the more steps your food goes through before it reaches your plate, the greater your chances of contamination becomes. If you are able to get your food directly from the field or after harvest, such as directly from a farmer or farmer’s market, you knock out five potential operations that could expose your food to contamination.

2. Boost Your Immune System

Your body’s first line of defense against illness is in your gut. It’s called “friendly bacteria.” Too many of us today are lacking in adequate probiotic colonies in our small and large intestine, primarily from taking antibiotics and eating a processed-food diet, including pasteurized foods and toxic farm chemicals on poorly washed produce.

Cat’s recommendations:

NOTE: I am not a physician and am not qualified to advise you on any specific health situation.  My intent in listing these recommendations is merely to raise awareness.

  • Sign up for a 5- or 7-day juice fast at the Wellness Education Center (WEC) in Kalispell, or a similar internal cleanse program. Such programs give your gut a break from it’s daily hard work of digesting your meals, so that it can rid itself of toxic build-up, and begin to repair the damage done by our modern diet.
  • Make a habit of consuming at least one serving of lacto-fermented food or beverage daily. These include: plain, unsweetened yogurt or kefir, sauerkraut (not canned), brined pickles (not canned), brined olives (like Kalamata), real sourdough bread (see Gathering Summary: Sourdough), real cheese, and so on.
  • Take a good quality probiotic supplement, but note that this should not be a substitute for lacto-fermented foods.
  • Have at least one serving of raw food daily (salad, fresh fruit, etc.). Try to eat from the rainbow of colored foods, as the colors provide important antioxidants and other immune-supporting nutrients.
  • Prepare most of your meals at home, from scratch using fresh produce, properly fermented grains, and pasture-fed animal products.
  • Ensure you get sufficient natural vitamin D. Your best source is sunlight at midday, but don’t overdo exposure to the point of sunburn. The next best source is fermented cod liver oil (See Dr. Ron’s for more about this ancient food); for vegetarians, fresh wheatgrass or barley-grass juice is a reasonable alternative. Your third choice would be a good quality vitamin D3 supplement.
  • Give yourself a cleansing enema followed by a probiotic implant (see Ancient Healing Remedies for Every Home) once a month or as needed.
  • Avoid antibiotics. If you must take them, be sure to increase your consumption of lacto-fermented foods during and after treatment.
  • Avoid pasteurized or irradiated foods.
  • Avoid foods with added chemicals, especially those used to “preserve” the food.
  • Avoid GMO foods.

Clean your fresh produce properly

The FDA makes the following recommendations to clean fresh produce (2);

  1. Wash your hands for 20 seconds with warm water and soap before and after preparing fresh produce
  2. Cut away any damaged or bruised areas
  3. Gently rub produce while holding it under plain running water
  4. Wash produce before you peel it
  5. Use a clean vegetable brush to scrub firm produce
  6. Dry produce with a clean cloth or paper towel
  7. Throw away the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage

But you should be aware that a thorough washing of produce is not 100% effective (5). That’s why it’s so important to know your farmer and keep your immune system in good shape.

Cat’s ideas for cleaning produce:

In addition to the above recommendations:

  • I believe you should store your produce unwashed; wash only right before you intend to use it or eat it.
  • Keep a spray bottle of diluted pure liquid soap (not detergent) by the kitchen sink. For firm produce, spray with the diluted cleanser, gently rub it onto the surface of the food, then rinse it well with cold water.
  • For leafy veggies (salad greens, cabbage, broccoli, kale, etc.), put them in a bowl, add some undiluted pure liquid soap, then add cool water to fill the bowl. Gently swish the veggies in the soapy water, then let this rest for a few minutes before rinsing thoroughly with cold water. Then pat them dry with a cotton dishtowel.
  • It’s also a good idea to rinse the washed veggies with diluted vinegar to remove the soap or any soapy residue. This is especially important if you have hard water. The vinegar also helps to rid the food of any molds or bacteria that the soap didn’t get.
  • Even tho a sealed clear container of greens says “pre-washed,” it’s a good idea to wash them as above, right before using.


  1. Mercola: 7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables
  2. FDA: 7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables
  3. Farm Hands Map (WhoIsYourFarmer.org)
  4. Wellness Education Center (www.JuiceFast.info)
  5. Mercola: Your Mother Was Right – and Wrong – About Washing Fruits and Vegetables

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