The EHEC Crisis, Bacteriophages and Our Ignorance

Now that the tragic E. coli crisis in Germany, and parts of Europe, wanes out of the news channels, it is time (again) to ask ourselves what we know, what we should know and what we forgot.

We know that bean sprouts caused this mutated strain of E. coli to pass into thousands of people, to kill tens of them and to seriously affect the kidneys and brains of the survivors, for some permanently. Astounding that such a type of infection, more characteristic to the African climate and hygiene conditions, erupted in Northern Germany, somewhere around Hamburg.

We also know that some marketing wiseguy, years ago, launched the misconception that you don’t need to wash the raw vegetables that you buy and eat. Because their super dooper processing machines wash them with chlorine (which is a carcinogen, by the way) and that kills all bacteria off the surface of your packed raw food. True about chlorine, it kills everything, it was used in WWI to kill soldiers. Yet, it seems that either some “machine” workers indulged too much with hands washing and personal hygiene, or that bean sprouts may harbor a chlorine resistant deadly bacteria (hard to believe but who can tell?), or that they didn’t wash the sprouts enough. Justice will eventually inform us about the causes of this terrible tragedy.

What we should know is that whenever we trust the system we engage in some sort of public Russian roulette. Trusting the system, or a system, can mean many things. So let’s focus on trusting the public culinary systems and fads. Have a short read on wiki to learn the obvious.

Sprouting is the practice of germinating seeds to be eaten either raw or cooked. They are a convenient way to have fresh vegetables for salads, or otherwise, in any season and can be germinated at home or produced industrially. Sprouts are believed to be highly nutritious and rich in enzymes which promote good health. They are a prominent ingredient of the raw food diet and common in Eastern Asian cuisine. Sprouting is also applied on a large scale to barley as a part of the malting process. A downside to consuming raw sprouts is that the process of germinating seeds is conducive to bacterial growth, resulting in dozens of outbreaks of lethal infection with Salmonella and E. coli over the past few decades.

Notice the end phrase, “over the past few decades.” This isn’t a surprise for knowledgeable people. It’s a matter of decades. Probably of eons for East Asia, but only of decades since the sprouts fad hit Europe.

Well, instead of forbidding cucumbers and quarreling with Spain, the German food-watchers should google more often, with a wiki prefix in their searches.

We forgot to wash raw vegetables because the big chains told us they wash them for us. With chlorine, a powerful oxidant, proper to disinfect your pool but less adequate in your food or tap water.

We forgot to perform a minimal research before trying to eat something novel and trendy. Like bean and soy sprouts. On a side note, did you know that soy, although rich in so many positive nutrients, holds Phytic acid in sufficient amounts to deplete your body of zinc? It chelates zinc and iron, then to a lesser extent calcium and magnesium. Soy extracts, such as pure lecithin, separated from Phytic acid, do well, but  soy plants or seeds, cooked or not, take the zinc out of your body. Not good.

Last but not least, we forgot to think with our own minds. We allow others to think for ourselves and, even worse, we ingest whatever the fad will insert in our salads. And this turns on a tragic and deadly slope. Not surprisingly, the information was waiting for us, but we ignored it. And some paid a hefty price for our collective ignorance.

Just wondering that, if we’re so good at lying and hiding so many things and deeds we imagine or do, why not trying to apply this untrusting spirit on foods we eat? Not sure if the sprouts farm, that infected Europe with EHEC this summer, belongs to a big or to a small business. And it doesn’t matter, after all. What counts is if they stamp the E .coli warning on the labels they stick to their product. Like you may read on cigarettes packs: SMOKING KILLS!

And finally about the natural solution against antibiotic resistant bugs, the so-called super bugs. No, it’s not yet another antibiotic, it’s not that simple but even simpler than that… It’s about a virus, or a family of viruses called bacteriophages. These natural occurring viruses evolve with bacteria, like a shadow following each bug strain, if you want. It’s like the antidote weapon from our technological world. Every new bug strain has its own naturally crafted bacteriophage virus which will find her and kill her. Human produced antibiotics are just upping the stakes in this natural process, instead of finding better ways for the phage to find its match. This kind of phages only attack bacteria, we’re transparent to them. Looks like they are our silent allies. And we didn’t know!

Too bad that we forgot to study nature and notice that the most common biological entities on earth are… Don’t tell me? Yes! Bacteriophages.

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