Food Safety

Preventing Illness from E. Coli

What are some concerns about preparing and eating hamburger? In the past decade, a rare and potent strain of bacteria called E.coli has been identified. This bacteria can cause severe illness and sometimes death.

E.coli can be transmitted to meat during food processing and also by unsanitary home preparation methods. Most confirmed cases of E.coli infection have been associated with undercooked ground beef. In 2 to 15 percent of the cases in children, the infection may develop into hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). This condition can ultimately lead to kidney failure with the possible permanent loss of kidney function and even death.

E.coli bacteria can survive both refrigeration and freezer storage; it is not known what level of E.coli causes infection either. For this reason, proper food handling and preparation techniques are essential.

Thorough cooking can control E.coli bacteria. To ensure your continued good health and to prevent foodborne illnesses, use the following methods as your controls against infection.

  1. Remember that all meats, poultry and fish should be well cooked. Use a thermometer to make sure that meat is completely done. Visual appearance is not a safe way to determine if ground meat is done. ||
  2. If eating out, send back any meat, poultry or fish product that does not appear to be thoroughly cooked. ||
  3. NEVER drink unpasteurized or raw milk ||
  4. After shopping, go directly home. Do not let groceries sit in a hot car while you run additional errands. Quickly freeze or refrigerate perishable foods. ||
  5. NEVER thaw food on the counter or let it sit out of the refrigerator over 2 hours. ||
  6. To ensure safety, use refrigerated ground meat within 1-2 days; frozen meat should be used within 3-4 months for best quality. ||
  7. Serve cooked food with clean plates and utensils. This is especially a concern when grilling. Always have a clean platter for the grilled meat to be served on. ||


Ground Beef

Cooking ground beef to 160°F eliminates any danger from pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli

Meg McAlpine
FCS Agent IV
Contributing Editor