Escherichia coli or E. coli is a common bacterium that lives in the intestines of animals and people. Most strains of E. coli are harmless. However, E. coli O157:H7 produces a powerful toxin that can cause severe illness two to eight days (often 3-4 days) after exposure.
People can become infected with E.coli O157:H7 by:
- Eating undercooked meat products.
- Consuming raw contaminated vegetables.
- Drinking raw unpasteurized milk or juice.
- Person-to-person contact in families and child care centers.
- Hand to mouth contact while visiting farms and petting zoos.
- Swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated waters.
An E. coli O157:H7 infection can cause bloody diarrhea and stomach pain which can last 5-10 days. Most healthy adults completely recover within one week. However, an infection can cause Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) which can lead to kidneys failure. Children (under 5 years) and elderly are at greatest risk of HUS.
- Thoroughly cook meat (160ºF for Ground Beef).
- Separate ready-to-eat foods from raw animal foods.
- Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after contacting raw meat.
- Never place cooked hamburgers or ground beef on the unwashed plate that held raw patties.
- Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables. Peel off the outer layer of leafy vegetables.
- After handling raw meat products wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.