E. coli is a common type of bacteria
that can get into food, like beef and vegetables. E. coli is short for the
bacteria's medical name Escherichia coli. The strange thing about these
bacteria — and lots of other bacteria — is that they're not always harmful
E. coli normally lives inside your intestines, where it helps your body
break down and digest the food you eat. Unfortunately, certain types (or strains)
of E. coli can get from the intestines into the blood. This can make a person
Someone who has E. coli infection may have these symptoms:
One very bad strain of E. coli was found in fresh spinach in 2006 and
some fast-food hamburgers in 1993. Beef can contain E. coli because the bacteria
often infect cattle. It can be in meat that comes from cattle and it's also in their
poop, called manure. Cow poop in your food? How does that happen? Not on purpose,
of course, but it can happen if the manure is used for fertilizer (a common practice
to help crops grow) or if water contaminated with E. coli is used to irrigate
What Foods Can Cause E. Coli Infections?
E. coli can be passed from person to person, but serious E. coli
infection is more often linked to food containing the bacteria. The person eats the
contaminated food and gets sick.
Here are some foods that can cause E. coli poisoning:
undercooked ground beef (used for hamburgers)
vegetables grown in cow manure or washed in contaminated water
fruit juice that isn't pasteurized (pasteurization is a process that uses heat
to kill germs)
Heat can kill E. coli, so experts recommend that people cook beef (especially
ground beef) until it is cooked through and no longer pink. Choosing pasteurized juice
is another way to avoid possible infection.
Some experts recommend washing and scrubbing vegetables before eating them. But
others say E. coli is hard to remove once it has contaminated produce, such
as spinach, lettuce, or onions. The solution, they say, is to take more steps so that
E. coli doesn't come in contact with crops.
What Will the Doctor Do?
If someone has symptoms of E. coli poisoning, the doctor will run some
blood tests and take a sample of the person's stool (poop). The blood and stool can
be checked to see if a harmful strain of E. coli is present. Even though
diarrhea is one of the main
symptoms, the person shouldn't take anti-diarrhea medicines because they can slow
down recovery time.
Some people recover at home, while others need to be in the hospital. In some cases,
E. coli poisoning can cause life-threatening kidney problems.
What Can Kids Do?
Adults are the main people in charge of preventing E. coli infection by
serving well-cooked meat, cleaning countertops when preparing meats, and being aware
of any recalls affecting contaminated vegetables or other products.
But kids can help too. Here are three ways:
When you're at a restaurant, order your burger well done. Eat it only if it's
brown, not pink, on the inside.
Don't swallow lake, ocean, or pool water. If the water contains any human waste,
it can carry the E. coli bacteria.
Always wash your hands after
you use the bathroom and before you eat. There are plenty of bacteria in poop. Gross!
You don't want to accidentally eat some of those bad bacteria!