E. coli: What you need to know

Local News

In light of a recent E. coli outbreak in East Tennessee, there are a few ways you can keep your family safe.

The Knox County Health Department reports on average there are 19 cases of E. Coli reported every year.

The most common way to contract an E. coli infection is by eating contaminated food, like ground beef, unpasteurized milk or fresh produce.

Read more: Health department says sick children drank milk from East Tennessee dairy

Ground beef. When cattle are slaughtered, E. coli from their intestines can get on the meat. And ground beef combines meat from different animals, which can lead to an increased risk.

Raw milk. E. coli on a cow’s udder or on milking equipment can get into raw milk.

Fresh produce. Runoff from cattle farms can contaminate fields where fresh produce is grown. Leafy greens are especially vulnerable to this type of contamination.

E. coli can travel from person to person, especially when hands aren’t properly washed. Family members of young children with the infection are more likely to acquire it themselves.

Risky Foods

  • Cook hamburgers to 160 F. Always cook ground beef until it’s well-done — no pink. And use a meat thermometer. Meat can brown before it’s completely cooked
  • Drink pasteurized milk, juice and cider. Any boxed or bottled juice that is kept at room temperature is likely pasteurized, even if the label doesn’t say so. Although it’s legal to sell raw milk and other dairy products in Tennessee, the health department recommends you not drink it.
  • Wash raw produce thoroughly. Washing product won’t always get rid of all E. coli, especially in leafy greens. But careful rinsing can remove dirt and reduce the amount of bacteria that might be hanging on to the produce.

Avoid Cross-Contamination

  • Wash utensils.  Use hot, soapy water on knives, countertops and cutting boards before and after they come into contact with fresh produce or raw meat.
  • Keep raw foods separate. And don’t forget to use a separate plate for cooked hamburgers — don’t use the same plate you use for raw patties.
  • Wash your hands. After you prepare or eat food, use the toilet or change diapers, make sure you wash your hands. And make your children wash hands before eating, after using the bathroom and after contact with animals.

E. coli Risk Factors

  • Age. Young children and older adults are at higher risk of E. coli-related illness.
  • Weakened immune systems. People with weakened immune systems from AIDS or drugs to treat cancer or prevent the rejection of organ transplants are at risk of becoming ill from E. coli.
  • Time of year. Although it’s not clear why, the majority of E. coli infections in the U.S. happen from June through September.
  • Decreased stomach acid levels. Stomach acid offers some protection against E. coli. If you take medications like Nexium, Protonix, Prevacid or Prilosec, you may increase your risk of infection.

Symptoms of E. coli

Signs and symptoms of E. coli infection typically begin three or four days after exposure to the bacteria, though you may become ill as soon as one day after to more than a week later. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea, which may range from mild and watery to severe and bloody
  • Abdominal cramping, pain or tenderness
  • Nausea and vomiting, in some people

You should see a doctor if your diarrhea is persistent, severe or contains blood.

Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk of developing serious complications from infection.  These complications can include brain damage, kidney failure, strokes, and seizures.

Sources: The Mayo Clinic, Tennessee Department of Health

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