Food Poisoning: How you can get infected with Escherichia coli bacteria

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Escherichia coli is a kind of bacteria that normally lives in your digestive tract. It can also be found in the gut of some animals.

Most types of E. coli are not harmful and even help keep your gut healthy. But certain strains can cause diarrhea if you eat contaminated food or drink unsafe water.

While many of us link E. coli with food poisoning, you can also get it if you have pneumonia and urinary tract infections from different types of bacteria. 

E. coli infection causes vomiting, abdominal cramps, nausea, and bloody diarrhea. It is the leading cause of acute kidney failure in young children and infants. It can also cause life-threatening symptoms such as adult kidney failure, fever, confusion, bleeding, and so on.

How Does One Get Infected?

If you swallow even a small amount of E. coli bacteria, you can become infected. Among the ways this can happen include:

Meat products: You eat ground meat that carries E. coli if it was undercooked enough to kill the bacteria contained in it. When meat is processed for commercial purposes, sometimes bacteria from the animals’ guts make their way into the meat. This always occurs more with ground meat because it comes from more than one animal source.

Raw fresh milk: When you drink unpasteurized milk, which hasn’t been heated to kill bacteria. E. coli can get into the milk from milking equipment or cow's udder.

African region has highest burden of foodborne diseases - WHO

Photo Credit: Foodnavigator

Vegetables and fruit: You might eat fresh vegetables or fruit that’s been soaked or washed by water that has the bacteria. This happens most often when nearby animals are bred around a water supply and foodstuffs are handled around there.

Processed foods and beverages: You may also get E. coli from unpasteurized fruit juices, cheese, and yogurt made from raw milk.

Water supply: If you drink water that contains E. coli, perhaps while swimming in a pool or taking water from a dirty well, you can have the infection.

Person to person: You might get E. coli from another person who has the infection, such as a child. The bacteria can be passed to you if you clean up fecal waste and then don’t wash your hands really well before you touch your mouth or use your hand to eat food.

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