Thanks, imafan. Good summation.
Been reading this with interest. The entire cycle of life fascinates me. "Remember man that thou art dust and to dust you shall return." Symbiosis. Biodiversity, bioremediation.
Anecdotally, my former inlaws were in the Garden State, as was my family. My FIL grew up on a Depression era farm, had a tech executive career and gardened for vegetables as an avocation and into retirement. He sold specialty things on occasion to restaurants. Because of his rural roots he was pragmatic, but because of his urban career he selectively forgot some things he once knew. He hit on the idea of composting horse farm manure and using that to enrich his soil. Great. No one has ever thought of that before.
We had to thin root crops one time and I would select a few radish or carrot or turnip culls and rinse them off under the old fashioned pump from the well. This was in the northwest of the state. Excellent well water. After I ate the few cleaned roots and tops, he looked at me in alarm. "You know I use manure on those crops?" Of course I did. I also knew where he got it, how he composted it, when he added it to his soil.
Back at the condo, my MIL was prepping some supermarket button mushrooms. I try not to argue with people about their kitchen myths, but she wanted to make a salad without cleaning the mushrooms. I insisted on cleaning them, with a paring knife and damp paper towel. She remonstrated with me. I finally told her that those little brown flecks were not mushroom gill as she thought but sterilized steer manure in which the commercial farmers grew them. Told her I knew it was acceptable as clean, but I just had to improve on it. She was horrified, and actually peeled her mushroom caps after that, and tossed away the stems entirely.
And last week, my sister bought sliced button mushrooms and wanted to use them without washing. Thirty years later and people are still confused about the relative safety of manures.
Any strain of E.coli can make you ill, but know that it always originates in the intestines of some animal. The bacteria actually doesn't live all that long outside of a host. In compost, or a manure pile, or in gardening applications, the E.coli has long been dead. Fresh fecal matter will have a few days of colonization. After that, aeration and solarization will take care of it.
When you get fresh produce, you don't know how it's been handled or treated. Even when the package says "supermarket ready" you still should clean it.
Of course I've picked wild things and eaten them without washing. I know the risks, know that contamination can even come from rain splashing up. But in commercial food packaging, there is always the chance that someone sprayed a fresh manure laden broth over them or a fieldhand or an animal with questionable bathroom habits brushed up against them. In the packaging plant, people track stuff in on their boots, bring germs in on their hands and in their coughs. What do people think the dark marks on a white eggshell are?
And it isn't just E.coli to concern us.