E. coli in unpasteurized apple juice from High Hill Ranch in Camino, California has sickened seven people, hospitalizing one of them, according to the County of El Dorado. Consumers should not drink any unpasteurized apple juice purchased from the ranch on or after October 6, 2015. Consumers who have this juice at home should discard it in a sealed container.
Health officials are trying to determine how the juice became contaminated. High Hill Ranch has suspended sales of the juice while it awaits results of tests.
E. coli bacteria live in the intestines of animals and are shed in their feces. They are transmitted via the fecal-oral route, meaning people ingest food or drinks that are contaminated with microscopic amounts of fecal matter.
Symptoms of E. coli food poisoning include severe abdominal cramping and diarrhea that can be bloody. These symptoms usually develop one to four days after exposure and last up to 10 days. Antibiotics should not be used to treat E. coli infections as they can make the illness worse and can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome, according to the CDC.
Those most at risk are children, seniors, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. These groups are also at greater risk for more severe infections and complications that can develop.
Children with E. coli infections are at risk for a life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which causes kidney failure, seizure, stroke, coma and death. HUS, which often targets children, usually occurs a week or more after the onset of diarrhea.
Anyone who has consumed unpasteurized juice from High Hill Ranch and has these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately and mention exposure to E. coli.
Birds, animals, insects and dust can contaminate fruit in the field. So can a worker who has not washed hands properly. Fruit can become contaminated in the field via the stem scar or through a puncture or bruise.
That was the case in 1996, when an E. coli outbreak was linked to Odwalla juice mixtures which were unpasteurized at that time. One batch of apple juice was made with bruised fruit. Sixty six people were sickened, at least 12 of them developed HUS, one of them died. Most of those who became ill were small children. The average age of most of those who were sickened was 5.
Odwalla issued a nationwide recall of all its products containing tainted apple juice. Since that time, the company has pasteurized its juices. But not all producers do.
When unpasteurized juices are sold at grocery stores, farmers markets or other stores, they are required to to be marked with the following: “WARNING: This product has not been pasteurized and therefore may contain harmful bacteria that can cause serious illness in children, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.” If they are purchased, they need to be kept refrigerated.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require this warning label for juice or cider that is fresh-squeezed and sold by the glass at orchards, farmers markets, roadside stands, or in some restaurants or juice bars. Consumers who stop at roadside stands, markets or juice bars where beverages are sold by the glass should ask if it has been pasteurized.