You can’t even trust Bambi anymore. Doug Powell, from Barfblog, emailed me the story of a young girl who suffered HUS after contracting an E. coli infection from handling deer meat.

Beverly said the only other thing she could think of was that her husband, Red, had shot a deer the Friday after Thanksgiving. She helped him skin it and prepare bigger cuts to send off to a local butcher, but Red cut the tenderloin himself. "April was helping her daddy with the tenderloins," Beverly recalled. April placed the pieces of meat into freezer bags, handling the meat with her hands.

Here is the interesting part:

"Deer harbor infection – it’s estimated that 17 percent of the whitetail population harbors E. coli," she said, and it appears they harbor a pretty nasty strain of it. The infection grows in the digestive system. But in the process of gutting and cleaning a deer carcass, it is easy to nick the bowels and spill the infected fluids.

E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a pathogen as a result of an outbreak of unusual gastrointestinal illness in 1982. The outbreak was traced to contaminated hamburgers, and the illness was similar to other incidents in the United States and Japan. The etiologic agent of the illness was identified as a rare O157:H7 serotype of Escherichia coli in 1983. This serotype had only been isolated once before, from a sick patient in 1975.

E. coli O157:H7 has jumped from cows to Bambi over the last 30 years or so. The fact that E. coli O157:H7 (and other emerging pathogens) have become such a part of the current food environment has to be taken into account in making food safety policy decisions. Comments like, “I used to drink raw milk or eat raw hamburger when I was a kid” are misplaced in light of the reality of the present existence of these pathogens. Beliefs that “grass-fed” meat (wonder what Bambie’s last meal was?) or “locally grown” or “raw” food is inherently safer have to take into account the present reality of these very nasty bugs.