Bring it to Barb Answering your questions on mental health, relationships and life issues


Dear Barb,

What exactly is E coli and how can I eat healthy spinach and lettuce when there is a risk of this happening so often?

Healthy and Happy and Afraid

Dear Healthy and Happy and Afraid,

What exactly is Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli)? It is made up of bacteria found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals.
It is no longer enough to take precautions only with ground beef and hamburgers. It is very difficult to remove bacteria from leafy greens because bacteria have the ability to adhere to the surface of the leaves, and to get stuck in microscopic crevices. E. coli bacteria can even find its way into the interior of your produce.
Washing lettuce in water (or water combined with baking soda) may help remove pesticide residue, surface dirt and debris from produce, but washing has not been proven an effective way to remove E. coli and related bacteria. And if you’re thinking that buying organic romaine will keep you safe, think again. There is little evidence that organic produce is less vulnerable to E. coli outbreaks than conventional produce.
Be sure to clean and sanitize all imported and domestic fruits or vegetables. All can be carriers of disease. If possible, fruits should be skinned, or at least vigorously scrubbed and/or washed.
You can opt for cooked greens since the heat kills E. coli and other types of bacteria that can make you sick. My favorite is red chard, just boiled with the stem and it tastes better than spinach.
Another idea is to wash fruits and vegetables to remove any dirt or other material, then soaked in chlorinated water (1 teaspoon of household bleach in one quart of water, soaked for at least 15 minutes). They can then be rinsed in clean water. This will remove most, but not all, bacteria.
Be very mindful of the surfaces (especially cutting boards) and the utensils used during meal preparation that have come in contact with uncooked beef and other meats. This even means that utensils used to transport raw meat to the cooking surfaces should not be the same that are later used to remove the cooked meat (or other foodstuffs) from the cooking surfaces.
E. coli has the ability to survive for periods of time outside the body, which means they can easily be passed along in contaminated food supplies or on surfaces that we come in contact with.
Wash your hands often. Make a conscious habit to wash your hands after returning home from the grocery store before even putting away food (those grocery carts are germ magnets).
Don’t store meat near produce in the refrigerator — if you do, you risk the raw meat leaking onto your fruits and veggies.
Healthy eating comes with the personal responsibility of doing our part to protect ourselves, or others, by good habits. The CDC is doing their part to keep regulations strict and watching from the growing to the production process.

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at

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