E. coli: what is it and how to avoid contamination?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals.

Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea. But a few particularly strains can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. This can be life-threatening especially in kids. You may be exposed to E. coli from contaminated water or food — especially raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef.

To reduce your chance of being exposed to E. coli, avoid risky foods and watch out for cross-contamination.

(1) Practice meticulous personal hygiene. This is true not only for family members (and guests), but for anyone interfacing with the food supply chain. Remember that E. coli bacteria are very hardy and that only a few are sufficient to induce serious illness.

(2) Be sure to clean and sanitize all imported and domestic fruits or vegetables. All can be carriers of disease. If possible, fruits should be skinned, or at least vigorously scrubbed and/or washed..

(3) Be careful to avoid cross contamination when preparing and cooking food, especially if beef is being served. This requires being very mindful of the surfaces (especially cutting boards) and the utensils used during meal preparation that have come in contact with uncooked beef and other meats.

(4) Do not allow children to share bath water with anyone who has any signs of diarrhea or “stomach flu”. And keep any toddlers still in diapers out of all bodies of water (especially wading and swimming pools).

(5) Wear disposable gloves when changing the diapers of any child with any type of diarrhea.

(6) Remember that achieving a brown color when cooking hamburgers does not guarantee that E. coli bacteria have been killed.

(7) Avoid drinking (and even playing in) any non-chlorinated water. There is an added risk if the water (well, irrigation water or creek/river) is close to, or downstream from any livestock....