Common Foods That Could Cause Food Poisoning: A Recent Look at Rising E. coli Cases

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Food poisoning is extremely unpleasant, but not uncommon. Each year, around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur in the UK, according to the Food Standards Agency, so nearly all of us will have experienced it at some point in our lives.

The condition occurs when you eat something that has been contaminated. This can happen when food is not cooked or reheated thoroughly, not stored correctly, left out for too long, or handled by a person who is ill or has not washed their hands.

Symptoms of food poisoning usually include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, a high temperature of 38C or above, and feeling generally unwell. These symptoms can start anywhere between a few hours to a few days of eating the contaminated food.

Thankfully, food poisoning can usually be treated at home, with symptoms passing within a week. The NHS emphasizes the importance of keeping yourself hydrated during this time.

E. coli Outbreak Raises Concerns

This week, Britons have been warned of an outbreak of E. coli “from a nationally distributed food item” that has not yet been identified. The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said cases of E. coli have increased in recent weeks and an investigation is ongoing.

“Based on the wide geographic spread of cases, it is most likely that this outbreak is linked to a nationally distributed food item or multiple food items,” the agency said in an announcement.

“The source of this outbreak is not yet confirmed, but there is currently no evidence linking the outbreak to open farms, drinking water or swimming in contaminated seawater, lakes, or rivers.”

There have been 113 confirmed cases of E. coli, as of Tuesday 4 June, including 81 in England, 18 in Wales, 13 in Scotland, and 1 in Northern Ireland.

Understanding E. coli

Dr. Bruno Silvester Lopes, lecturer in microbiology at Teesside University, tells Yahoo UK: “E. coli is an organism commonly found in our gut and in warm-blooded animals. The organism is harmless, but it has some variations of pathotypes known to cause disease.”

“An important pathotype is STEC or Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, which is linked to food poisoning. The current ongoing outbreak in the UK is linked to E. coli O145, which was first recognized in 1982 as a pathogen linked to food poisoning.”

He adds: “In most cases it is a self-limiting infection which will resolve by itself, but young children and older adults with low immune status are at high risk of developing the infection. In 5% to 10% of cases, it can cause hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) leading to bloody diarrhea, kidney failure and even death.”

“Treatment includes rest, drinking fluids to restore the fluid loss due to diarrhea. In extreme cases, blood transfusion, plasma exchange and kidney dialysis may be needed.”

High-Risk Foods for Food Poisoning

While any type of food can cause food poisoning, some foods carry a higher risk than others.


“Salmonella bacteria get into chicken meat when the chicken has come into contact with contaminated chicken feed or other infected animals, and from other sources in their farming environment,” Dr. Lee explains.

“In terms of cooking, salmonella bacteria are destroyed by heat. The Food Standards Agency advises that poultry should be cooked at high temperatures so it is steaming hot all the way through, there are no pink juices and the meat is not pink inside. They recommend it should be cooked until it has reached a core temperature of 70C for two minutes, which can be checked using a clean probe.”

“Chicken can only be reheated once. Reheating means cooking it again until it is steaming, not just warming it up.”


Eggs can also harbor salmonella bacteria on the shells and can get inside the egg if the shell has cracked.

You should wash your hands and the egg before cooking and eating it, says Dr. Lee. Check the shell for cracks, as you should not eat cracked eggs. Vulnerable people, such as those with a weakened immune system, should not eat raw or soft-boiled eggs.

Milk and Dairy Products

Milk can be contaminated with several types of bacteria, including salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, and E. coli when it comes into contact with cow dung.

“The pasteurization process involves heating the milk for a set period of time, which effectively destroys all these bacteria,” Dr. Lee explains. She recommends that milk be stored in the fridge at all times, and should always be drunk before its use-by date.

The Food Standards Agency advises that raw or unpasteurized milk can lead to unhealthy levels of bacteria in milk, and is not advisable for anyone who is vulnerable. This includes anyone aged 65 or over, pregnant women, and small children or babies.

This applies to other dairy products too, like cheese and cream.

Fruit and Vegetables

“Fruit and vegetables can be contaminated with bacteria from the soil, compost, and manure,” Dr. Lee says. “If the surface of the fruit or veg is broken, bacteria can be transported within it.”

“Store fruit and veg away from meat in the fridge. Wash your hands before starting any preparation. Wash the fruit and veg thoroughly under cold running water before preparing it, even if you don’t want to eat the skin.”

You should also always ensure that you prepare fruit and vegetables on a different chopping board to the one used for meat.

Burgers and Sausages

During the summer, barbecuing is a popular and delicious way to cook outdoors. But burgers and sausages can be considered high risk for food poisoning because they contain minced meat.

Dr. Lee explains: “During the mincing process, any bacteria on the outside of the meat will be mixed in. Also, it’s all too easy to burn the outside of a burger or sausage, whilst the inside remains undercooked and pink.”

To stay safe, any burger or sausage must be cooked all the way through. They should be cooked until they are steaming hot, there is no pink meat, and the juices are clear.

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