Tips to Prevent E. Coli Contamination of Food in Your Kitchen

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Prevent E. Coli Contamination in Your KitchenOne of America’s most popular fast food chains has made people sick. Considering the quality of its ingredients, this actually comes as quite a surprise to me.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, known for its quality ingredients, temporarily shut the doors to 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon this week due to an E. coli scare.

Many of the stores were closed as a precaution, but seven people in Washington and one in Oregon have been hospitalized for their symptoms.

Effects and Symptoms of E. Coli Contamination in Food

Most E. coli infections are harmless. In fact, E. coli is commonly found in human and animal intestines and acts as a key component of a healthy digestive system. However, in some cases, it can make you very ill, potentially even resulting in death.

The symptoms of an E. coli infection involve severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is spread through traces of animal or human fecal matter.

E. Coli in Food More Common Than You Think (even in your own kitchen!)

It seems unusual, but you actually consume more E. coli than you might think. It’s rather common to find on meat or produce, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and most cases go unnoticed.

Unfortunately, there is not much you can do if you contract it from an outside source. In the case of Chipotle, for example, the bacteria probably spread because it got on some of the produce or meat during production or shipping.

But you can also get E. coli from foods you are eating on a daily basis.

Eight Kitchen Tips on How to Prevent E. Coli Food Contamination

In order to prevent contracting it, here are a few things you can do:

1. Cook meat to the right temperature: Invest in a decent meat thermometer and use it whenever you cook hamburgers or ground beef. Ensure the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria that might be present. Be sure to stick the thermometer into the thickest point of the meat to get the most accurate reading and make sure you don’t stick it in too far; if you do, the heat from the pan may give you an inaccurate reading.

2. Wash all of your produce thoroughly: E. coli can get trapped on produce; when you rinse it off, there is a good chance it will wash the bacteria away with any dirt or residue. Rinsing your veggies does not provide complete risk prevention, especially with leafy greens, but it can definitely help.

3. Clean utensils and surfaces to prevent cross contamination: Avoid cross contamination by making sure you wash all utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot soapy water both before and after they come into contact with raw meat.

4. Wash your hands after every task: Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, changing a baby’s diapers, and touching animals, and both before and after preparing food. Even petting your cat or dog before or while you’re preparing a meal could put you and your loved ones at risk, so be aware of your actions while you’re cooking and handling food.

5. Keep raw foods separate: Keep raw meats in bags and at the lowest level of your fridge before cooking to minimize cross-contamination.

6. Use separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables: Invest in separate cutting boards for meat and vegetables and ensure all family members know which to use for which foods. Better yet, many stores sell colored or shaped cutting boards; consider getting a green or vegetable-shaped board for produce and a red or animal-shaped board for meats.

7. Use separate utensils and surfaces for raw and cooked meat: Never put your raw chicken or hamburger on the same plate or tray you place them on when cooked. The best way to prevent this is to get into the habit of washing dishes and utensils as you cook. Once you’re done putting raw meat in the pan or oven or onto the grill to cook, immediately wash and sanitize the plate you had it on and pull a dry one from the cupboard before the meat is ready to ensure you have a clean plate on hand.

8. Don’t rinse raw meat: Finally, don’t put raw meat in the sink to rinse it; you’ll do more harm than good.

Cooking meat to the appropriate temperature and taking steps to prevent cross-contamination like some of those listed in the tips above are your best bet for E. coli prevention. While minimal amounts of E. coli contamination in food may seem shocking, it is normal; it’s when these levels of E. coli contamination rise that you need to be concerned. For this reason, food safety and kitchen hygiene should be of greatest concern to you when cooking for yourself or loved ones, and even more so if your loved ones have a compromised immune system, are young, or are elderly.

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Sources for Today’s Article:
Brumfield, B., et al., “Chipotle closes dozens of stores in Washington and Oregon in E. coli scare,” CNN web site, November 3, 2015;
“E. coli prevention,” Mayo Clinic web site, August 1, 2014;