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What is E.coli infection? Escherichia coli or E.coli are a family of bacteria that live in the intestines of humans and animals. Most do not cause harm. Some harmful ones that come from animals, such as E. coli O157:H7, can make you very sick.


  • Front of E.coli fact sheetE.coli Fact Sheet (PDF 105KB)
    View, download and print the E.coli Fact Sheet. Escherichia coli or E.coli are a family of bacteria that live in the intestines of humans and animals. Most do not cause harm. Some, such as E. coli O157:H7, can make you very sick.

Contact Us

For more information, please contact the Infectious Disease Control Team:

  • 519-663-5317 Ext. 2330

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms usually start about 3 to 4 days after the E.coli get into your mouth. They can happen as early as one day or as long as ten days later. Common symptoms are severe stomach cramps, diarrhea that may be bloody, and vomiting. You may have a headache, nausea and fever. The symptoms usually last about one week.

Some people, especially young children, can get a more serious complication called Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). This is a type of kidney failure and blood disorder. Most people with HUS get better within a few weeks, but some may get permanent kidney and other organ damage and complications or may die.

See a doctor if you think you have E. coli infection. Ask that your diarrhea be tested for E. coli.

Do not take medicines to stop the diarrhea. Drink fluids, such as water and juice, to replace the lost fluids. Antibiotics are not recommended for E.coli O157:H7 infection.

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What causes E.coli infection?

It is caused by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with E. coli, such as:

  • Beef, especially ground beef, raw and undercooked, and in whole cuts. The meats get E.coli contamination when animals are slaughtered or processed and the bacteria are spread.
  • Fruits and vegetables that are not cooked, such as lettuce, fresh spinach, alfalfa and bean sprouts. Fresh produce grown in gardens and fields can get E. coli from improperly composted manure, contaminated water, wildlife or poor hygiene by farm workers.
  • Unpasteurized apple juice or cider
  • Unpasteurized or raw milk and raw milk products such as raw milk cheese
  • Untreated drinking water such as well water
  • Other foods that are not handled safely in grocery stores and in our homes

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How is E.coli spread?

E.coli infection is spread by the fecal-oral route. You could spread the infection to others if you prepare food or are being cared for by others. It is spread by:

  • Food handlers with improper food handling or poor hand washing and personal hygiene
  • Infants and toddlers who are not toilet trained, to their family members, caregivers and playmates
  • People who do not get sick or show symptoms, but carry the bacteria in their intestines
  • People with poor bowel control, to their environment in homes and hospitals

If you are employed as a food handler or a health care worker, go home or stay home. Report your symptoms to your manager. Contact your health care provider for stool testing.

Touching animals that carry the bacteria, such as at farms and petting zoos, can pass the bacteria to our hands.

It is not spread by coughing, kissing or through normal, everyday interactions with neighbors or friends.

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How can I prevent spreading E.coli?

Safe food handling and thorough hand washing are the best prevention.

Wash Your Hands

  • Make sure hands are properly washed  with soap and warm water before touching food, mmediately after handling raw meats and produce, after using the toilet, helping others toilet or changing diapers and after handling animals and pets.
    1. Wet hands with warm running water
    2. Put liquid soap on hands
    3. Lather hands and scrub for 20 seconds
    4. Rinse under running water
    5. Dry your hands with paper towels
    6. Use the towel to turn off the taps

Safe Food Handling

Foods that are contaminated with E.coli bacteria do not look or smell bad. Follow tips for safe food handling practices at all times. Remember to keep pets away from food storage and preparation areas.


  • Wash your hands before preparing food and often while you are making it.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables with clean water before cooking or eating.
  • Clean and then sanitize cutting boards, utensils, and countertops after preparing raw meat, poultry, egg products and raw vegetables.
  • Sanitize with a mild bleach and water solution: mix 1 ml (¼ teaspoon) of unscented household bleach into 500 ml (2 cups) of water.
  • Let the sanitized surface air-dry.


  • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and their juices away from other food items while shopping, during storage in the refrigerator
  • When preparing food keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, eggs away from food that won’t be cooked. Use separate utensils for raw and cooked foods.


  • Cook all meat, fish and poultry to safe temperatures. Use a food thermometer.
  • Cook whole poultry to 82°C/180oF.
  • Cook food mixtures that includes poultry, egg, meat, fish to 74°C/165°F
  • Cook poultry (other than whole poultry) and ground poultry to 74°C/165°F
  • Cook pork, pork products, ground meat that does not contain poultry to 71°C/160°F
  • Keep hot foods hot above 60°C/140°F if not served right away.


  • Keep the fridge at 4°C (40°F) or below.
  • Chill leftovers and takeout foods within 2 hours.
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave just before cooking. Never thaw at room temperature.

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Other Considerations:

Visiting Petting Zoos

When you visit petting zoos or other areas with wild animals and farm animals:

  • Obey all signs that warn not to touch the animals or that give other precautions.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before and after animal contact.

Pasteurized products

  • Use only pasteurized milk and foods made from pasteurized milk.
  • Use only pasteurized juice and apple cider.

Safe drinking water

  • Drink water from a safe supply. Lakes, streams or other sources are untreated and may not be safe. Keep water out of your mouth while swimming in lakes or pools.

If you have an E. coli infection, you may be contacted by your local Public Health Department for follow-up.

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Date of creation: December 14, 2012
Last modified on: January 11, 2016


1Heymann, D.L. (Ed.). (2015). Control of communicable diseases manual (20th ed.). Washington, DC: American Public Health Association.
2Pickering, L.K. (Ed.). (2012). Escherichia coli and Escherichia coli diarrhea. In 2012 Red book: Report of the committee on infectious diseases (29th ed., pp. 321-328). Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
3Public Health Agency of Canada. (2014). E. coli – Fact Sheet Retrieved from
4Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education. Retrieved from
5Centers for Disease Control. (2015). E.coli (Escherichia coli). Retrieved from
6Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Food Safety Fact Sheets. Retrieved from
7Health Canada. Recalls and Safety Alerts. Retrieved from