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How Does E. Coli Get Into Our Food?

Millions of people every year get sick every year from foodborne illnesses. People can react very differently to different kinds of contaminated foods that can often be mistaken for other health problems like the flu. Symptoms of foodborne illnesses can include fatigue, chills, diarrhea, dehydration, cramps, fever and headaches. If you have some of these symptoms, consider if you might have been exposed to contaminated food.

Bacteria 101

Bacteria likes to grow and thrive between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Bacteria in this temperature range can quickly multiply into trillions in a short amount of time. Bacteria likes to live in warm moist temperatures and many need oxygen to thrive. Some bacteria prefer living on protein sources like eggs, fish or meat. Freezing can help to slow bacteria growth but won’t kill all the bacteria like cooking food can. Food often becomes risky during the handling, preparation or storage phases due to improper or inadequate food safety steps. Some healthy people can handle small exposures to foodborne illnesses without issue but other people can become very ill, especially those with weak immune systems.

E. Coli

E. Coli is one type of bacterium that very common and often harmless. However, it is also frequently referred to as travelers’ diarrhea due to the strains that exist that can cause diarrhea from eating foods washed in contaminated water or from drinking contaminated water. E. Coli exists commonly in your large intestine and is frequently transmitted by a fecal-oral route.

E. Coli has many different strains. One strain has such severe effects to the point that it can kill people. This more serious strain is typically found on undercooked or raw ground beef, unpasteurized drinks like milk or cider or other raw animal foods. If a person consumes E. Coli, it can cause severe bloody diarrhea (dysentery), vomiting, nausea, and potentially even more severe issues like strokes and seizures. Infants are those most at risk of the ill effects of E.Coli.

To prevent E. Coli, you need to ensure that proper hand washing and safe food preparation happens for every meal. You need to thoroughly cook foods or reheat them to kill the bacteria. Other safe food practices include cleaning the kitchen and cutting board with bleach spray and limiting consumption of raw milk. When cooking ground beef, be sure that it is evenly and thoroughly cooked all the way through so there are no pink parts inside.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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