The purpose of this essay is to describe Salmonella and E. coli, their role in food contamination and preventative actions against contamination. Both Salmonella and E. coli are bacteria that cause illness in humans. They are both spread through contaminated foods, water and other sources such as human contact or animal feces. High-risk populations for infection include children, elderly and persons with compromised immunity. Young children are most at risk, especially those under five years old. Although most cases are mild, some are sever and can result in death if not properly treated by a health professional. Interestingly, summer is the season with the most reported cases.
Salmonella infection causes diarrhea, fever and intestinal cramps, usually appearing three to four days after infection. It typically lasts up to seven days (CDC). Illness generally passes without medical attention. In the United States, approximately 1.2 million people are infected yearly, with less than 500 deaths (Scallan). Although most cases are transient, some are serious, with bloody diarrhea and dehydration. Interestingly, Salmonella is named after Dr. Salmon, who studied animal diseases for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the early 1900’s.

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Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a type of bacteria that lives in the human digestive tract, causes similar effects as Salmonella, but also can cause more serious illnesses such as urinary tract infections and pneumonia (CDC). In some severe cases, E. coli can cause kidney failure (WebMD). Similar to Salmonella, E. coli sickness usually passes within ten days without medical treatment. It can be contracted by eating foods that contain tiny amounts of bacteria. In addition, E. coli is passed through feces, and often contaminates water sources including municipal water, wells and even public swimming pools.

Every year in the U.S., more than 50 million people become sick from contaminated food, and five thousand die (CDC). Salmonella is the most common source of food borne illness. Generally, infection comes from raw poultry, eggs, beef and unwashed fruits and vegetables. Food sickness from E. coli is predominantly spread through beef. Cows are susceptible to E. coli infection prior to and during meat processing, when they are in contact with feces and other slaughtered materials (WebMD). Many have highlighted the danger of eating processed meats, suggesting manufacturing processes are causing negative consequences on millions of people worldwide (Painter). However, food borne illnesses are preventable when follow simple strategies to remove healthy and safe.

Most cases of food borne sickness are preventable with common practices. It is important to always wash hands before handling fresh foods and raw meats. And, when cooking with raw meats, avoid cross contamination by using separate workspace for meats, or wash thoroughly before touching other ingredients. Meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160° F. Meat should never be cooked in a microwave, the temperature does not go high enough, and it is cooked unevenly. Also, avoid eating foods that contain uncooked eggs or milk, often in pastries. Given that more cases of food borne illness appear in summer, it’s important to keep some hand wipes around for safety as well. Often, summer is filled with cookouts and children’s activities, both are higher risk environments that should be treated with care.

In summary, food borne illnesses are common, but most are mild and preventable. It is important to carefully prepare foods when cooking, and only eat meat that has been properly cooked throughout. Prevention is straightforward with common sense.

  • CDC
  • Painter JA, Hoekstra RM, Ayers T, Tauxe RV, Braden CR, Angulo FJ, et al. Attribution of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths to food commodities by using outbreak data, United States, 1998–2008. Emerg Infect Dis [Internet]. 2013 Mar.
  • Scallan, E, Hoekstra RM, Angulo RV, et al. Foodborne illnesses acquired in the United States-major pathogens. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2011: 17(1).
  • WebMD