Six states, including Ohio, are part of an E. coli outbreak that has resulted in 109 people infected as of April 12. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ground beef may be the culprit, although no common supplier, distributor or brand has been identified. The CDC is not recommending that consumers avoid eating ground beef, but certain precautions can help reduce your risk of infection.
Michael Mattin, MD, emergency department medical director at ProMedica Toledo Hospital and ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital, said that one simple activity can help with prevention. “The biggest thing you can do is wash your hands. Wash your hands before you make food, after you change a baby’s diaper, and when you’re dealing with animals,” he said.
He also suggested following food safety guidelines, including washing the area you’re prepping food in and making sure that your meat is cooked to the temperature that it’s supposed to be cooked to.
Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160° F. Foods left in the “temperature danger zone” of 40°-140°F are susceptible to bacteria growth and shouldn’t stay at this temperature for more than two hours. After two hours, refrigerate the food to cool it below 40°F or reheat it above 140°.
According to Dr. Mattin, symptoms of an E. coli infection include abdominal cramping, nausea and often bloody diarrhea. The infection usually goes away on its own in about a week.
If you think you may have an E. coli infection, the CDC recommends that you talk with your healthcare provider, write down what you ate in the week before you got sick and report your illness to the health department.