Certain actions you take or foods you eat can expose you to an infection by a bacteria called E. coli.
A harmless bacteria—or is it?
Escherichia coli or E. coli, is the name given to a group of bacteria naturally found in the intestines of humans and animals (such as poultry and livestock). During the meat processing phase, the methods used sometimes allow bacteria to spread. Consumption or manipulation of contaminated meat causes the infection. Raw fruits and vegetables can also be contaminated by the bacteria in the fields through contact with improperly composted manure or with water, wild animals or poor hygiene by farm workers.
Most strains (varieties) of E. coli are not dangerous; however, some of them, such as E. coli 0157:H7, are likely to cause infections that can make people very sick. Although many infected individuals are only affected by transient and mild symptoms (stomach aches and diarrhea, for instance), others suffer from more serious symptoms that can even lead to death.
This type of infection is contracted especially by the consumption of contaminated foods. This mainly occurs when a person ingests:
- raw or undercooked ground meat
- raw milk or raw milk cheese
- raw fruits or vegetables
- unpasteurized juice or cider
- untreated drinking water
The infection can also be contracted through direct contact with a sick person or with animals that are carriers of the bacteria.
Symptoms of the E. coli infection
In general, symptoms of the E. coli infection begin three or four days after exposure to the bacteria; however, the incubation period can vary, ranging from 1 to 10 days.
Symptoms of the E. coli infection include:
- sharp abdominal cramps
Hemolytic uremic syndrome (or hamburger disease), kidney failure, epileptic seizure, and cerebrovascular accident (CVA), are among the more serious complications of E. coli infection.
How to avoid the infection
To avoid the E. coli infection, certain measures must be taken by all stakeholders—farm operations, slaughterhouses, manufacturers, butcher shops, and families—during meat processing or the high risk foods process for human consumption. Appropriate personal hygiene habits and precautions taken to prepare and manipulate food are essential to prevent the spread of E. coli bacteria.
As a consumer, here is some advice that should be followed to reduce the risk of E. coli contamination:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing or eating food.
- Do not eat raw ground meat.
- Ensure that the meat you eat is adequately cooked.
- Avoid foods that are unpasteurized.
- Wash fruits and vegetables properly before preparing and eating them.
- Do not rely on the smell, taste or appearance of food to check whether or not it is contaminated (contamination often goes unnoticed).
- Keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods. Wash your hands and clean counter surfaces and utensils with warm soapy water after any contact with raw meat.
- Restrict contact with individuals or animals contaminated with the bacteria.
Remember that your pharmacist is always there to help you and to answer your questions concerning any health issues!