E. coli (Escherichia coli) has a bad reputation. Each year people, usually infants and older adults who ingested contaminated food or water, die from being infected with this tiny bacterium. But in its proper habitat, E. coli is your friend, keeping your digestive system in good working order.
E. coli lives primarily in the intestines of animals, including humans. Of the two and a half pounds of bacteria living in your large and small intestines, E. coli is the largest group, making up as much as 1 percent of the bacteria.
In its proper habitat, E. coli is a beneficial organism. It helps you digest your food and produces small amounts of Vitamins K and B12.
Outside the Gut
E. coli is able to survive outside its primary habitat, e.g., in water and mud contaminated by E. coli-ridden feces. If this water comes into contact with raw vegetables like spinach and lettuce, E. coli can attach to the leaves. Ground meats can also contain E. coli due to slaughterhouse processing.
A small subset of E. coli is dangerous to humans if ingested. In the stomach, E. coli 0157:H7 can cause bloody diarrhea and kidney failure.
E. coli thrives at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooking meats to at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit and ground meats to 165 degrees Fahrenheit will kill E. coli.
- Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Rick Audet
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