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Infant Dies in New E. Coli Outbreak

Ongoing Toxic E. Coli O145 Outbreak: 14 Cases in 6 States, Cause Unknown

Preventing E. coli Illness

STEC outbreaks generally begin in livestock. Although contaminated meat may carry the bugs, outbreaks often are caused by contaminated produce.

E. coli is spread by oral-fecal contact. People often unknowingly eat microscopic amounts of human or animal feces. Obvious sources of contact are eating contaminated food (such as undercooked contaminated meat or unpasteurized milk), contact with cattle, or changing diapers. Less obvious sources of contact include eating food prepared by people who did not properly wash their hands after using the toilet.

It's probably impossible to fully ensure that you never encounter STEC bacteria. But here's the CDC's advice on how to limit your risk:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. Wash your hands after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).
  • Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. It's best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of "doneness."
  • Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard "kiddie" pools.
  • Prevent cross contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.

Most STEC outbreaks have been caused by an E. coli strain called O157. The FDA forbids sale of any beef trimmings with any amount of this bug. But there's been a growing realization that six other STEC strains have been causing U.S. outbreaks.

Ironically, the FDA this week began a zero-tolerance policy for six other STEC strains -- including E. coli O145.

The outbreak was first reported by ABC News.

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