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environment general science genetics health and medicine space technology February 28, 2003 
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E. coli Wars (video)
June 26, 2001

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While many of you are cooking outside over a hot grill this summer, scientists are working in the lab to make sure that the food you are cooking is safer.

This ScienCentral News video reports on what’s being done to help prevent infection from harmful E. coli.


How can I avoid E. coli contamination?

E. coli 0157:H7 contamination is most commonly associated with ground beef. The bacteria lives in the digestive system of cattle, and during meat processing can come in contact with beef. As we head into peak barbecue season, safe meat handling techniques become even more crucial.

Why is ground beef so dangerous?

E. coli is usually found on the surface of any piece of meat. So when you cook something like a steak, the surface of the meat will usually reach temperatures high enough to kill off the bacteria, even if you like it rare. But ground beef is actually hundreds of much smaller pieces of meat smashed together into one, and each of these smaller pieces has an "exterior" that is now inside the larger piece of meat. When a hamburger or meat loaf is then made from that meat, the inside may not reach a temperature sufficient enough to kill the bacteria.

What are the symptoms of E. coli contamination?

The general symptoms are cramping or abdominal pain along with diarrhea which may include blood. Children, elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk for more severe illness.

So what can I do about E. coli?

There are no real guarantees that your ground beef is totally free of E. coli, so to limit your exposure to this dangerous bacteria, it pays to take some precautions:

  • Make sure frozen hamburger patties are thoroughly defrosted before cooking, otherwise the surface will be cooked before the still frozen interior reaches the correct temperature.
  • Avoid rare or pink-on-the-inside hamburgers. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends using a digital food thermometer and cooking burgers to an interior temperature of 160 degrees F.
  • Always place cooked hamburgers on a clean plate, never the same plate that held them when they were raw.
  • Wash your hands and all kitchen surfaces after handling raw ground beef.
  • If you should take children to visit a farm, petting zoo, or anyplace with live cattle, always make sure their hands are washed before allowing them to eat anything.


by Curt Epstein


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