E. coli O157:H7 is a particularly nasty bacterium. Only a few in your food can be enough to give you a totally miserable week or so of diarrhea and stomach cramps. For people who are more vulnerable, and especially young children (under age 5), and sometimes, older adults, it can even be much worse. Just as they seem to be improving, they develop a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS can be fatal.
We tend to associate E. coli O157:H7 with meat, particularly consumption of undercooked hamburgers. True, it turns up there fairly regularly, including in the past few months. But vegans - don't think you are safe. It can be on your fruit and vegetables too. And, for those who eat dairy - it can be right in the cheese.
That is where it has been turning up in the past ten days. On November 4, the FDA informed us that E. coli O157:H7 had been found in Bravo Farms Dutch Style Gouda cheese. Ugh - offered at in-store tastings by Costco in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada and sold in Costco stores. ("Would you like a little taste of deadly bacteria?") People in the Southwest are getting very sick...although no one has died yet.
Then today I found another cheese recall, this time for Mauri Gorgonzola cheese with sell-by dates of 01/31/11 and 01/14/11. It has also tested positive for E. coli O157:H7. And, again Costco is selling it. DPI Specialty Foods of Tualatin, Ore., cut, packaged and distributed the cheese to Costco stores in Colorado. According to the FDA, the strain of E. coli O157:H7 in this cheese is different from the one in the earlier alert. So what is happening? Who knows. Once the investigation is completed - and this could take weeks, or even months - we may be told the cause. But - and this is an update(11/15) further investigation shows Costco is blameless. It wasn't one of their workers, contaminating it while cutting it up. The cheese came from DPI Specialty Foods already carrying the E.coli (proven through its presence in an unopened package).
In the meantime, I continue to suggest a preventive approach. If you would just as soon not spend the next week or more in misery, don't buy or eat any kind of cheese distributed by DPI Specialty Foods or bought at Costco, until we find out more (contaminated equipment? sick workers with poor sanitation? ). It could well be that other cheese products will be implicated as well. If you want to be even safer, cut out all cheese for a while, as the problem or problems may turn out to be earlier in the food chain - and, could be an ingredient problem.