E. coli and food businesses

E. coli bacteria keeps appearing in foods we sample from businesses. So what is it and how does it get into our food?

The full name is Escherichia coli and it is found naturally in the gut of humans and animals.

It can also be found on fruits and vegetables, particularly those grown in the ground and that have been fertilised with manure.

Finding E. coli in foods is an indication of faecal (poo) contamination – either from the food handler or from the foods they are using. Its presence in ready-to-eat food is unacceptable because it suggests unhygienic food handling, poor hand washing after toileting, inadequate cooking, lack of washing salad ingredients and/or cross contamination during food preparation or post process contamination.

Recently there has been various outbreaks in Australia and overseas where E. coli has been the culprit. A variety of foods have been implicated, including unpasteurised apple and orange juices, sprouted seeds, fruit, salads and meat products - especially undercooked minced meat patties.

3 ways to eliminate E. coli in your food

  1. Hand washing: thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm running water after going to the toilet and before and during preparing/serving food.
  2. Heat: E. coli is easily killed by heating, so cooking food properly is a basic method of control. Minced beef, in particular, must be fully cooked. Milk and dairy products must be pasteurised.
  3. Washing: Ensure all fruit, salad and vegetable ingredients are washed to remove any traces of E.coli that might be present from the growing process - even if it looks clean. It is highly recommended that pre-washed salads/vegetables are re-washed.

Note: If fruit has a skin that needs to be cut to get the fruit (such as watermelon), wash the fruit first so E. coli is not transferred into the flesh of the fruit by the knife.

Page last updated: Monday, 26 April 2021