5 Foods Besides Romaine That Can Have E. Coli

There are also other, less obvious foods that can harbor E. coli and cause illness. (Photo: Evgeny Karandaev/Shutterstock)

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will begin broad testing of romaine lettuce for E. coli and salmonella. The agency made the decision in the wake of recent E. coli outbreaks.

Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been investigating a cluster of cases linked to bagged Caesar salad containing the romaine.

Contaminated romaine lettuce has been responsible for three separate, multi-state E. coli outbreaks in the last two years. Those outbreaks killed five people and made another 295 sick, UPI reports.

Raw vegetables and fruits are often a source for E. coli because the bacteria can't be fully washed off. Thoroughly cooking produce will kill the bacteria, but that's the only way to be certain contaminated fruits and vegetables are safe. Raw vegetables are not the only food that can be contaminated, though.

Here are five other foods that you'll see recalled from time to time because of E. coli, along with tips on how to safely prepare them.


broccoli sprouts
Growing conditions make sprouts particularly susceptible to E. coli. (Photo: margouillat photo/Shutterstock)

Sprouts are grown in warm, humid conditions ideal for the growth of bacteria like E. coli, as well as salmonella and listeria. They're at their most dangerous when eaten raw, but cooking them can reduce risks and kill harmful bacteria. Between 1996 and 2016, there were 46 U.S. outbreaks of food-borne illness from sprouts. In 2017, the FDA began taking steps to curb the high number of bacterial illnesses linked to contaminated raw sprouts.


bottled water
Even water isn't safe from contamination. (Photo: ericlefrancais/Shutterstock)

Bottled water is usually safe when it comes to bacterial contaminants, but in 2015, Niagara Brand bottled water issued a recall out of an abundance of caution because of possible E. coli contamination, even though no illnesses were reported. The danger from E. coli-infected water usually comes from sources like private wells or drinking straight from a body of water that has been contaminated. If you're getting your drinking or cooking water from a source that could possibly be contaminated, there are ultraviolet water-treatment systems that can kill the bacteria, or in a pinch, boiling the water for at least one minute will also kill contaminants.


well done beef
Cooking beef so it's well done can kill any E. coli contamination. (Photo: Allen.G/Shutterstock)

In 2018, 7 tons of ground beef were recalled because of E. coli contamination. These bacteria commonly live in the digestive tracts of cows, whose meat may become infected during slaughtering and processing. Since E. coli in beef is fairly common, beef should be fully cooked before being consumed. That means a medium-rare cheeseburger, while delicious, may also be dangerous. To stay clear of E. coli poisoning from beef, burgers, steaks, roasts and other cuts of meat, they should be cooked to well-done. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking beef to an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 Celsius).

Unpasteurized juice

Unpasteurized juice can be contaminated with E. coli. (Photo: baibaz/Shutterstock)

Pasteurization kills bacteria in juice (and in dairy and eggs), but fresh juice can have E. coli passed on from the fresh produce it was made from. In 2013, 13 people became ill from E. coli after drinking unpasteurized apple juice from High Hill Ranch in California. The one sure way to avoid E. coli in any juice is to make sure it's been pasteurized before drinking it.

Deli meats

deli tray
Deli meat, especially if it's past its prime, can be a source of E. coli bacteria. (Photo: Elena Elesseeva/Shutterstock)

Deli slicers aren't typically cleaned between each use, given the impracticality of sterilizing them after every order. But, because of this, if one package of deli meat contains E. coli, the bacteria can spread to other meats prepared on the same slicer. While the risk from deli meats isn't as high as fresh produce or raw meats, a CBS News report indicates about half of locations visited by FDA inspectors didn't clean and sanitize their meat slicers as often as the FDA recommends. When buying deli meat, you might want to inquire about how often their slicers are cleaned. And discard of any sliced deli products that have been in your refrigerator for more than a few days. The longer they sit, the more the bacteria can grow.

While people with a healthy immune system generally make a full recovery from E. coli poisoning, there are some cases — as with the recent romaine outbreak — when healthy individuals can still suffer serious health problems. Those with compromised immune systems, the elderly and infants face the highest risks from E. coli poisoning and should see a doctor immediately if symptoms occur. According to WebMD, symptoms appear two to five days after E. coli has been ingested; the most common symptoms are abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and fatigue.