The E. coli Risks of a Red Meat Diet

Steady Meat Diet Makes People More Susceptible to E. coli Food Poisoning, Study Shows

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on October 29, 2008

Oct. 29, 2008 -- Red meat lovers face a double whammy when it comes to E. colifood poisoning.

Not only does the bacterium that causes people to get sick often come from red meat, but a new study also suggests that a regular diet of red meat can make people more susceptible to E. coli. The study was published in Nature.

Here is how it works. When people eat red meat and dairy, they absorb a sugar molecule called N-glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc). The human body does not produce Neu5Gc.

People can get infected with certain types of E. coli when they are in contact with infected feces of humans or animals. Infection can happen in several ways; a common way in the United States is through eating infected meat.

The E. coli produce a toxin that causes serious illness in the body. The researchers found that a bacterial toxin called subtilase cytotoxin targets Neu5Gc. In lab tests, the potent bacterial toxin attached itself to cells that had been exposed to Neu5Gc, such as cells of the intestinal lining and in the kidneys.

People with E. colifood poisoning may have bloody diarrhea and may get a potentially fatal disease called hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), which affects the kidneys.

Researchers stressed the importance of eating only well-cooked red meat and pasteurized dairy products to avoid the dangerous bacteria that can cause E. coli food poisoning.