Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

May 11, 2006 17:17 ET

CFIA: E. coli O157:H7-Food Safety Facts/Preventing Foodborne Illness

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(CCNMatthews - May 11, 2006) -

What is foodborne illness?

Food contaminated by bacteria, viruses and parasites can make you sick. Many people have had foodborne illness and not even known it. It's sometimes called food poisoning, and it can feel like the flu. Symptoms may include the following:

-stomach cramps





Symptoms can start soon after eating contaminated food, but they can hit up to a month or more later. For some people, especially young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems, foodborne illness can be very dangerous.

Every year in Canada about 10,000 cases of foodborne illnesses are reported, but food safety experts believe that an estimated two million people become ill without knowing or reporting it. Each year, about 30 cases are fatal.

Most cases of foodborne illness can be prevented by using safe food handling practices and using a food thermometer to check that your food is cooked to a safe internal temperature!

What is Escherichia coli O157:H7?

Escherichia coli O157:H7 (called E. coli in this pamphlet) bacteria are found naturally in the intestines of cattle, poultry and other animals. If people become infected with these bacteria, the infection can result in serious illness. Several other types of E. coli can also infect people and cause illness.

What are the symptoms of E. coli infection?

Symptoms can develop within hours and up to 10 days after ingesting the bacteria, characterized by severe abdominal cramping. Some people may also have bloody diarrhea (hemorrhagic colitis). Others infected with the bacteria may not get sick or show symptoms, but they can carry the bacteria, and spread the infection to others.

How serious is the infection?

Most people recover within seven to 10 days, but up to 15 percent develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), an unusual type of kidney failure and blood disorder, which can be fatal.

Symptoms of HUS vary, depending on the person's health and the extent of the infection. Some people may have seizures or strokes and some may need blood transfusions and kidney dialysis. Others may live with side effects like permanent kidney damage. Although everyone is susceptible to E. coli infection, people with compromised immune systems, young children and the elderly are most at risk for developing serious complications.

How does the bacteria spread?

E. coli bacteria can sometimes contaminate the surface of meat when animals are slaughtered, despite precautions. When meat is ground, the grinding process can spread the bacteria through the meat.

E. coli bacteria are often spread from person-to-person. Both animals and people infected with the bacteria can be carriers. Therefore, proper hygiene, safe food handling and preparation practices are key to preventing foodborne illness. If you think you are infected with E. coli bacteria or any other gastrointestinal illness, do not prepare food for other people unless you wear disposable gloves and follow safe food handling procedures. It's also a good idea to keep pets away from food storage and preparation areas.

Where has E. coli O157:H7 been found?

Food can become contaminated with E. coli during the slaughter and processing of an animal, when food is handled by a person infected with E. coli or from cross-contamination because of unsanitary food handling practices. The following listed below have been responsible for foodborne illnesses:

-ground beef

-raw fruits and vegetables, including sprouts

-untreated water

-unpasteurized (raw) milk and (raw) milk products, including raw milk

-unpasteurized apple juice/cider

-petting zoos

Should I eat unpasteurized products?

Pasteurization destroys E. coli O157:H7 and other harmful bacteria. If you choose to eat or drink unpasteurized dairy products or drink unpasteurized juice/cider, be aware! Food safety experts don't recommend unpasteurized products, particularly for young children, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. It's safest to drink only pasteurized dairy products. Drink juice/cider that is shelf-stable or labelled as pasteurized, or boil unpasteurized juice/cider before you drink it.

Will cooking destroy the bacteria?

Like many other harmful bacteria that could be in our food, E. coli O157:H7 are destroyed when food is cooked to a safe internal temperature. Use a digital food thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your food. See table
Defeating E. coli O157:H7: A 4-Point Plan

1. Get off to a CLEAN start!

Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. Do you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling food? Wash again when you switch from one food to another.

Are your countertops and utensils clean and sanitized? Sanitizing reduces bacteria and can prevent foodborne illness.


- Combine 5 mL (1 tsp) of bleach with 750 mL (3 cups)of water in a
labelled spray bottle.

- After cleaning, spray sanitizer on the surface/utensil and let
stand briefly.

- Rinse with lots of clean water, and air dry (or use clean

Foodsafe tip: Because raw fruits and vegetables can be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and parasites, wash them thoroughly with clean, safe running water before you prepare and eat them. Use a brush to scrub produce with firm or rough surfaces, such as oranges, cantaloupes, potatoes and carrots.

2. CHILL your food and stop bacteria cold!

Bacteria can grow in the danger zone between 4 degrees C and 60 degrees C (40 degrees F to 140 degrees F). Keep cold food cold at or below 4 degrees C (40 degrees F).

Refrigeration at or below 4 degrees C (40 degrees F) slows down most bacterial growth. Freezing at or below -18 degrees C (0 degrees F) can stop it completely. (But remember: chilling won't kill bacteria. Only proper cooking will do that!)

Foodsafe tip: Thaw food in the fridge or in the microwave just before you want to cook it. Always marinate meat, poultry and seafood in the refrigerator!

3. SEPARATE! Don't cross-contaminate!

Bacteria can be carried in raw meat juices. Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Use containers that are large enough to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other food or touching other food. Platters, utensils and cutting boards used for raw meat can carry bacteria, too, so use clean ones for cooked and other ready-to-eat food!

Keep raw food away from ready-to-eat food while shopping, storing and preparing foods.

Foodsafe tip: Before marinating meat, set some marinade aside in the fridge so you can use it later to baste meat or as a dipping sauce. It's best not to use leftover marinade from the raw food on the cooked food.

4. COOK safely!

Cooking meat to a safe internal temperature destroys E. coli bacteria. Use a digital food thermometer to check the internal temperature of your food. See table.

Foodsafe tip: Did you know that hamburgers can turn brown inside before they have been safely cooked? Don't use colour, look or feel of your meat to guess doneness. Use a food thermometer instead. Remember: Your burger's done at 71 degrees C (160 degrees F).
Bacteria can grow quickly in the danger zone between 4 degrees C and 60 degrees C (40 degrees F to 140 degrees F) so keep hot foods at or above 60 degrees C (140 degrees F).

When is my food ready to eat?
Food Temperature
fully cooked and ready-to-eat meats You can eat
(e.g. ham, roast) it cold or
you can heat it.
beef and veal steaks and roasts 63 degrees C
(145 degrees F)
71 degrees C
(160 degrees F)
77 degrees C
(170 degrees F)
well done
pork chops, ribs, roasts; 71 degrees C
ground beef, ground pork and ground veal, (160 degrees F)
including sausages made with
ground beef/pork/veal
stuffing and casseroles, hot dogs, leftovers, 74 degrees C
egg dishes; ground chicken and ground turkey, (165 degrees F)
including sausages made with ground chicken/turkey
chicken and turkey breasts, legs, 85 degrees C
thighs and wings; chicken and turkey, (185 degrees F)
whole bird

Safeguarding Canada's Food Supply
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is the Government of Canada's key science-based regulator for food safety(i), animal health and plant protection. At the CFIA, the safety of Canada's food supply is central to everything we do.
- in partnership with Health Canada

For more information on:
- food safety; and
- ordering free copies of this pamphlet;
visit the CFIA Web site at or call 1 800 442-2342/
TTY 1 800 465-7735
(8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday to Friday).

You can also find food safety information on the Canadian Partnership
for Consumer Food Safety Education Web site at

Cat. no.: A104-14/2005E
ISBN: 0-662-41099-8

Contact Information

  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency
    1 800 442-2342/TTY 1 800 465-7735 (8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET