Eating Safely

Although we normally associate it with summer picnics, E. coli and other types of food poisoning can be dangerous—even deadly—year-round. The danger comes from a family of microorganisms called cytotoxins or verotoxins. E. coli produces Shiga-like toxin 1; Shiga toxin, a nearly identical cytotoxin that causes the same symptoms, is produced by a bacterium called Shigella dysenteriae.

Whatever the cause, there has historically been no effective treatment for this form of food poisoning other than prevention, chiefly making sure food is cooked thoroughly—generally to a temperature of at least 160° Farenheit. That kills the bacteria and makes the food safe to eat. Otherwise, verotoxins may attach themselves to a common protein and slip past your body’s defenses. Verotoxin food poisoning kills a million people each year.

Recently, researchers discovered that manganese, a metallic element, might be able to help. Manganese alters the path the protein takes in cells, keeping it away from the toxins, which then get destroyed. Manganese is itself dangerous in high doses, but scientists are investigating whether safe doses are effective against food poisoning. Another issue that needs to be resolved before the treatment is practical is whether the protein’s function will be impaired by the treatment. However, experiments on rats, according to the journal Science, have been successful without impairing the animals’ functioning.

Charles Lieberman, MedexSupply blogger

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