Where Can You Get Sick From E. Coli?

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What you eat, but also where you dine or work can make you vulnerable to E. coli bacteria exposure. Most recently, Cargill Meat Solutions recalled 132,606 pounds of ground beef, fearing the meat was contaminated with E. coli. At least 17 illness and one death are linked to the recall as grocers frantically remove the product from stores.

E. coli exposure symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, but the illness can become severe if complications from dehydration occur. While most people make a connection between food and E. coli, there are other ways you can be exposed. Here’s where you can possibly come in contact the E. coli bacteria.

Food

The E. coli bacteria can live on fresh foods like ground beef and produce, according to the Mayo Clinic. Beef contamination occurs when the products are processed. Produce like sprouts, spinach, or lettuce may become tainted when exposed to cattle runoff on farms.

In addition to the recent outbreak, prepackaged spinach and most recently romaine lettuce caused E. coli outbreaks, CNN reports. Cheese was to blame for infections in 2010 and soy nut butter in 2017. While you may think simply washing produce will reduce your risk, it won’t. “It is very difficult to remove bacteria from leafy greens,” James Rogers, Ph.D., director of Food Safety and Research from Consumer Reports said. “Bacteria have the ability to adhere to the surface of the leaves, and to get stuck in microscopic crevices.”

Unpasteurized milk and juice

Drinking unpasteurized milk or juice can result in an E. coli infection. Like with produce, unpasteurized milk or juice infections occur during processing when the liquid comes into contact with cattle runoff. The pasteurization process heats the liquid to kill the offending bacteria, which results in a safer liquid (or food) for consumption.

Water

Human fecal runoff in rivers, streams and fresh bodies of water can make people vulnerable to E. coli infection, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although pools are typically chlorinated, you can still be exposed to E. coli.

Public water systems, while generally safe due to the use of chlorine, ultraviolet light or ozone, have dealt with E. coli contamination. Water supply systems in rural areas and private wells can be problematic without a specific disinfection system in place.

Humans

E. coli can be transmitted from another person, primarily from individuals who don’t wash their hands properly and then prepare food, Mayo Clinic reports. A number of restaurants have experienced E. coli outbreaks in the past. This includes Taco Bell, Chipotle, and  Jack in the Box, CNN reports.

Beyond restaurant workers, people who work in nursing homes, daycare facilities, and schools may be more susceptible to being exposed, according to Healthline.

Animals

People who work directly with animals, especially farm animals are at a higher risk than others, according to Healthline. If you work specifically with cows, goats, and sheep you should always wash your hands on a regular basis.

Factors that increase your risk

Anyone can be exposed to E. coli, although some people are at a higher risk of getting sick. Obviously eating unpasteurized meat and milk will put you at a higher risk, Healthline reports. But so does being very young or very old too. People with a compromised immune system are vulnerable, plus you are at risk if you take medications that lower the acid level in your stomach.  Most E. coli infections tend to occur seasonally–between June and September.