E. coli and Food Safety

What You Need to Know

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Although most kinds of E. coli are harmless, some can make you sick. Learn about the kinds of E. coli that cause diarrhea and what you can do to lower your chances of infection.

What are Escherichia coli?

E. coli are bacteria found in the intestines of people and animals and in the environment; they can also be found in food and untreated water.

Most E. coli are harmless and are part of a healthy intestinal tract. However, some cause illnesses that are sometimes severe, such as diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, and bloodstream infections. The types of E. coli that cause diarrheal illness are spread through contaminated food or water and through contact with animals or people.

Who is more likely to get an E. coli infection?

Anyone can get sick from E. coli, but some people have an increased chance of infection. These people are:

  • Adults aged 65 and older
  • Children younger than 5 years of age
  • People with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women
  • People who travel to certain countries

What are the symptoms of E. coli infections?

Most people have diarrhea, which can be bloody, and most have stomach cramps that may be severe. Some also have vomiting. A high fever is uncommon. Symptoms usually last 5–7 days.

About 5–10% of people diagnosed with a type of E. coli called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157 develop hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS)—a type of kidney failure that can be life-threatening.

Contact your healthcare provider if you have diarrhea or vomiting that lasts for more than 2 days, bloody stools, a fever higher than 102°F, or signs of dehydration (including little or no urination, excessive thirst, a very dry mouth, dizziness or lightheadedness, or very dark urine).

For more information, visit the E. coli Questions and Answers page.

How can I prevent E. coli infection?

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water.
  • Follow the four steps to food safety when preparing food: clean, separate, cook, and chill.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat has reached a safe minimum cooking temperature:
    • Cook ground beef, pork, and lamb to an internal temperature of at least 160°F (70°C). The best way to check the temperature of patties is to insert the thermometer from the side until it reaches the center.
    • Cook steaks and roasts of beef to an internal temperature of at least 145°F (62.6°C) and allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes after you remove it from the grill or stove. Check the temperature in the thickest part of steaks or roasts.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils with soap and water after they touch raw meat.
  • Do not drink untreated water or swallow water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.
  • Don’t eat raw dough or batter.
  • Drink pasteurized milk and juices.
  • Take precautions with food and water when traveling abroad.

How can I prevent E. coli infection from animals?

Play it safe around animals, including those at petting zoos, farms, fairs, and even in your backyard.

  • Wash your hands often. Running water and soap are best. If they are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and wash your hands with soap and running water as soon as you can.
  • Eat and drink safely. Keep food and drinks out of animal areas.
  • Always supervise children around animals.
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