Escherichia Coli

Things you can can learn and do to prevent this!

E. Coli

E. coli is a common type of bacteria that can get into food, like beef and vegetables. E. coli is short for the medical term Escherichia coli. The strange thing about these bacteria — and lots of other bacteria — is that they're not always harmful to you.


E. coli normally lives inside your intestines, where it helps your body break down and digest the food you eat. Unfortunately, certain types (called strains) of E. coli can get from the intestines into the blood. This is a rare illness, but it can cause a very serious infection.


One very bad strain of E. coli was found in fresh spinach in 2006 and some fast-food hamburgers in 1993. Beef can contain E. coli because the bacteria often infect cattle. It can be in meat that comes from cattle and it's also in their poop, called manure. Cow poop in your food? How does that happen? Not on purpose, of course, but it can happen if the manure is used for fertilizer (a common practice to help crops grow) or if water contaminated with E. coli is used to irrigate the crops.

Spread of Illness

While E. coli is most often found in meat, it is not limited to it. The bacteria are also found in unpasteurized milk and apple cider, ham, turkey, chicken, roast beef, sandwich meats, raw vegetables, cheese and contaminated water.

Bean and alfalfa sprouts have also been recalled because of E. coli contamination.

Fruits and vegetables that grow close to the ground are susceptible to E. coli contamination if, for example, improperly composted cattle manure is used as a fertilizer.

E. coli, salmonella and cryptosporidium can also be found in unpasteurized juice. Children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are encouraged to drink pasteurized juice or boil unpasteurized juice before consuming it.

Once someone has eaten contaminated food, the infection can be passed from one person to another person by hand-to-mouth contact. The bacteria are most often spread person to person.

Common Symptoms

People it Effects

E. coli can affect anyone who is exposed to the bacteria. But some people are more likely to develop problems than are others.

Prevention/Treatment

No vaccine or medication can protect you from E. coli-based illness, though researchers are investigating potential vaccines. To reduce your chance of being exposed to E. coli, avoid risky foods and watch out for cross-contamination.

Risky foods

  • Avoid pink hamburger. Hamburgers should be well-done. Meat, especially if grilled, is likely to brown before it's completely cooked, so use a meat thermometer to ensure that meat is heated to at least 160 F (71 C) at its thickest point. If you don't have a thermometer, cook ground meat until no pink shows in the center.
  • Drink pasteurized milk, juice and cider. Any boxed or bottled juice kept at room temperature is likely to be pasteurized, even if the label doesn't say so.
  • Wash raw produce thoroughly. Although washing produce won't necessarily get rid of all E. coli — especially in leafy greens, which provide many spots for the bacteria to attach themselves to — careful rinsing can remove dirt and reduce the amount of bacteria that may be clinging to the produce.

Avoid cross-contamination

  • Wash utensils. Use hot soapy water on knives, countertops and cutting boards before and after they come into contact with fresh produce or raw meat.
  • Keep raw foods separate. This includes using separate cutting boards for raw meat and foods such as vegetables and fruits. Never put cooked hamburgers on the same plate you used for raw patties.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands after preparing or eating food, using the bathroom, or changing diapers. Make sure that children also wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom and after contact with animals.