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Biggest E. Coli Risk Is in the Restroom Rather Than the Kitchen

Study finds main cause of bacterial illness is not tainted food

October 28, 2019

If you thought eating undercooked or contaminated food was the most likely way to contract E. coli, you’d be wrong. A new study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal found that people who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom are a bigger cause of the spread of antibiotic-resistant E. coli than eating undercooked meat.

E. coli has become more antibiotic resistant over the past 20 years. Scientists have found that strains of the disease with Extended Spectrum Beta-Lactamases (ESBLs), which destroy penicillin and other antibiotics, are most commonly transmitted from human to human, with fecal particles from one person reaching the mouth of another.

The study researchers analyzed 20,000 fecal samples and hundreds of blood samples. They found that the ESBL ST131 strain, which dwells in human guts and can cause serious infections, dominated in the human blood, sewage and fecal samples. Strains without ESBLs were more commonly found in animal meat and slurry, which is a mixture of particles, including manure, in water.

Although the great majority of ESBL-E coli strains causing human infections aren’t coming from eating chicken, lettuce, or any other food, the researchers cautioned that people should still practice food handling safety by cooking chicken well and keeping raw meat and vegetables separated. However, the most important thing people can do to avoid E. coli is to keep restrooms clean and always wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet.

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