An outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 that has sickened 66 people in 28 states points to the need for better funding for health surveillance, said food safety advocate and foodborne illness litigator William Marler. News of the E. coli outbreak was issued by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), which said in its release that the link to Nestle Toll House raw cookie dough was strong enough to warrant a warning.

“The fact that this outbreak was not detected until more than sixty people were ill in 28 states is precisely why we urgently need increased funding for the agencies responsible for public health,” said Marler. “From the CDC to state and local health agencies, many dedicated people are working hard to protect consumers from tainted food, but they just don’t have enough resources to do the job we ask of them. There are many demands on our national ‘safety net’, but this is one we cannot afford to skimp on – the human cost is just too high.”

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are members of a large group of bacteria which inhabit the intestinal tracts of humans and other mammals. Many strains (or serotypes) are harmless or even beneficial, but certain Shiga-toxin (Stx) producing serotypes can cause human illness and even death. The most common of these is E. coli O157:H7. The CDC estimates that 70,000 Americans are infected with E. coli every year.

E. coli is often contracted by consuming food or beverage that has been contaminated by animal (especially cattle) manure. The majority of food borne E. coli outbreaks has been traced to contaminated ground beef; however leafy vegetables that have been contaminated in fields or during processing have are also responsible for many outbreaks. Unpasteurized dairy products and juices can be contaminated with E. coli, as can sprouts and even water.

“Identifying an outbreak and tracking it to a source is labor-intensive work,” continued Marler. “Victims are interviewed about what they ate and came into contact with, family members are interviewed, as are people in the affected communities who escaped infection. Labs test suspected products. The math is simple: the more people doing this work and more resources they have available to them, the faster an outbreak can be detected and sourced – and that means fewer illnesses.”