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GUEST COMMENTARY One in Ten is Too Many


One in ten are great odds if playing the lottery or entering a raffle. These are devastating odds when representing the chances of developing severe complications of post-diarrheal hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) after exposure to Shiga-toxin producing E. coli (STEC). These are absolutely unacceptable odds if this is your child, a family member, or for a physician, a patient.

Acute and chronic complications that are life-changing after consuming a salad is too high a high price to pay for consuming fruits and vegetables. Incidence of HUS follows the seasonal fluctuation of E coli O157:H7 infection, which frequently peaks in the summer months in the northern hemisphere. While a consumer can cook meat thoroughly, and wash hands after using the restroom or changing diapers, before and after preparing or eating food, and after contact with animals, there is little that can be done to prevent exposure to foodborne STEC on non-cooked food.

Application of ionizing radiation using available and inexpensive electron-beam technology to eradicate foodborne pathogens including STEC can prevent infections and consequently reduce the risk for acquiring post-diarrheal HUS. Similar to heat treatment used to pasteurize milk or to can foods, irradiation is a physical treatment with the potential to eliminate pathogens such as STEC from fruits, vegetables and meat. Irradiation of foods will reduce the odds of foodborne infection from one in ten to zero.

As a pediatric infectious disease physician who has helped families after infection with STEC and who has cared for too many children with HUS, I see no alternative. For a child, food irradiation would mean the difference between a healthy life and one tethered to dialysis awaiting a renal transplant.

Dr. Andrea L. Shane, MD MPH MSc is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Interim Clinical Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Marcus Professor of Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control, Emory University School of Medicine and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.