From lettuce to ground beef, it seems Escherichia coli, or E. coli, finds its way into our food supply and wreaks havoc on unsuspecting consumers. E. coli is found in the intestines of people and animals, and most strains are harmless. However, a few varieties can cause severe symptoms, such as bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps and kidney damage. The most common culprits for exposure are undercooked beef and water and raw vegetables contaminated with human or animal waste. You can also get it from another person who hasn’t washed his or her hands properly.
If you’re a healthy adult, you’ll likely recover from an E. coli infection within a week without any medical treatment. But young children and older adults are susceptible to life-threatening complications.
So how do you keep bacteria at bay? Here are some preventive measures:
- Well done, please. Hamburgers should be cooked until at least 160 F, or until no pink is in the burger’s center.
- Pick pasteurized. Choose only pasteurized milk, juices and cider. Pasteurization, a process that uses high heat, kills the bacteria.
- Give it a rinse. Fresh produce should be washed thoroughly to reduce the amount of bacteria on its surface.
- Keep ‘em separated. Use one cutting board for raw meats and one for fruits and vegetables.
- Clean the counters. Wash all surfaces with hot soapy water, including countertops, cutting boards and knives.
- Wash up. Hands should be washed before and after preparing or eating food, and after using the bathroom or changing a diaper. Teach your children proper hygiene as well.
- Skip drinking the water. Avoid swallowing lake, ocean or pool water. They may have E. coli from human waste.