E. coli O157:H7 and other strains of E. coli that produce Shiga toxins are collectively known as Shiga toxing-producing E. coli (STEC).
Most strains of E. coli are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy animals and humans. STEC are strains of E. coli that produce a toxin and can cause severe illness.
People usually become infected with E. coli O157:H7 (STEC) by eating contaminated food
The organism can live in the intestines of healthy cattle. Eating meat (especially ground beef) that is rare or under cooked is the most common way of becoming infected. Drinking unpasteurized milk or juices, and drinking or swimming in sewage-contaminated water can also cause infection. The bacteria are present in an infected person’s feces (stool) and may be spread from person to person.
E. coli O157:H7 (STEC) can cause severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps
Sometimes infection causes non-bloody diarrhea or no symptoms. Symptoms begin 3 to 4 days, but can range from 1 to 10 days, after exposure. Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) is a serious complication that occurs in some infected people, particularly children under 5 and the elderly. In this syndrome, red blood cells are destroyed and kidney failure occurs.
Infection can be diagnosed by detecting the bacterium in the stool
Your health care provider can request a special culture for E. coli O157:H7 (STEC) from a laboratory.
See your doctor if you think you may have this infection
- Most people recover without specific treatment in 5 to 10 days. Fluid and electrolyte replacement is important when diarrhea is watery or there are signs of dehydration. Antidiarrheal agents should be avoided. Antibiotics may actually worsen the disease.
- HUS is a life-threatening condition that is usually treated in an intensive care unit.
- If food handlers, health care and child care workers, children in child care, or anyone in the family of such people have an E. coli O157:H7 (STEC) infection, they should contact their local health department to get specific recommendations.
Infection with E. coli O157:H7 (STEC) can be prevented by:
- Food Safety
- Eating only thoroughly cooked meats and poultry (using a meat thermometer is the only way to ensure that food is thoroughly cooked).
- Consuming only pasteurized milk and dairy products, and juices.
- Eliminating cross-contamination from raw foods to cooked ones by thoroughly washing cutting boards and utensils, and by discarding used meat packages.
- Avoiding sewage-contaminated water. Don’t swallow water when swimming and when playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.
- Washing all fruits and vegetables before eating.
- Practice proper hygiene, especially good handwashing.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom and changing diapers.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after preparing or eating food.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).
- Wash your hands thoroughly before preparing and feeding bottles or foods to an infant or toddler, before touching an infant or toddler’s mouth, and before touching pacifiers or other things that go into an infant or toddler’s mouth.
- Keep all objects that enter infants’ and toddlers’ mouths (such as pacifiers and teethers) clean.
- If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol (check the product label to be sure). These alcohol-based products can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and running water.
Food Temperature Chart
|Category||Food||Temperature (°F)||Rest Time|
|Ground Meat & Meat Mixtures||Beef, Pork, Veal, Lamb||160||None|
|Fresh Beef, Veal, Lamb||Steaks, roasts, chops||145||3 minutes|
|Poultry||Chicken & Turkey, whole||165||None|
|Poultry breasts, roasts||165||None|
|Poultry thighs, legs, wings||165||None|
|Duck & Goose||165||None|
|Stuffing (cooked alone or in bird)||165||None|
|Pork and Ham||Fresh pork||145||3 minutes|
|Fresh ham (raw)||145||3 minutes|
|Precooked ham (to reheat)||140||None|
|Eggs & Egg Dishes||Eggs||Cook until yolk
and white are firm
|Leftovers & Casseroles||Leftovers||165||None|
|Seafood||Fin Fish||145 or cook until
flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
|Shrimp, lobster, and crabs||Cook until flesh is
pearly and opaque.
|Clams, oysters, and mussels||Cook until shells
open during cooking.
|Scallops||Cook until flesh is
milky white or opaque and firm.
- Food Safety at CDC
- Foodborne Illnesses and Germs
- Travelers’ Health: Safe Food & Water
- Healthy Swimming
- E. coli Infection & Farm Animals