How can I prevent or avoid an E. coli infection?

The most important thing you can do to protect against E. coli infection is to wash your hands – frequently. Always wash your hands thoroughly before and after cooking and after handling raw meat or poultry.

Wash your hands after using the restroom, changing diapers or after contact with animals.

If you’ve been infected with E. coli, scrub your hands vigorously with soap and clean under your fingernails where bacteria can get caught. Dry your hands with paper towels instead of cloth towels to avoid transferring bacteria.

You can also reduce your risk of an E. coli infection by following these food preparation and cooking tips.

When thawing meats:

  • Don’t defrost frozen meat unwrapped on the counter.
  • Keep frozen meat in a separate plastic bag (for example, a plastic grocery bag) when thawing.

When prepping foods:

  • Don’t rinse meat before cooking. It’s not necessary. Washing the meat could spread bacterial to nearby surfaces, utensils and other food.
  • Use a plastic or ceramic cutting board to cut raw meat. These materials can be cleaned more easily and thoroughly than wooden cutting boards.
  • Don’t “cross-contaminate” a prepping surface. If you had raw meat or chicken on a prepping surface, such as a cutting board, wash it thoroughly with soap and hot water before putting another type of food (such as a raw vegetable) on it. Better yet, use different cutting boards for the foods you are preparing.
  • Rinse all raw fruits and vegetables under cold running water before eating them. It’s ok to scrub firm produce but don’t use detergent or soap.

When cooking and serving meats:

  • Cook all meat well (undercooked meat is another source of E. coli contamination). Cooking foods well kills bacteria.
  • Use a food thermometer when cooking meat, and cook all meat and other foods to the safe temperatures recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (see references for link).
  • Don’t put a cooked hamburger on a plate that had raw ground beef or any other raw meat on it.
  • Refrigerate leftovers right away.

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