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Name: Mortikai
Status: Student
Age: 16
Location: IN
Country: United States
Date: December 2004

What treatments or detectors are there for ecoli today?

First of all, E. coli is a diverse species, just like Canis familiaris (the dog). There are many different strains of E. coli. There are some that are like pit bulls-mean and nasty and can make you very sick. Most are like golden retrievers-laid back and friendly. The reason they get their name (coli) is because they are found in the colon, or intestines. In fact, we can't live without them! They help us digest our food and actually make vitamins for us that we have come to depend on. So, why all the hype about it lately? Because there is a particularly nasty strain called E. coli O157:H7 that causes food poisoning. Food poisoning is where you get sick from a toxin that the organism gives off rather than from the organism itself. The typical scenario is that cattle live outside and gets fecal matter on its hide. Then when it is slaughtered, some of that fecal matter can get on the meat by accident.

This is not a problem usually if we are talking about steak or other single cuts of meat. Because this bacteria is easily killed by cooking. But hamburger or other ground meat is usually made by grinding a bunch of different cuts together and bacteria could be on the inside. If the hamburger is not cooked all the way through (pink in the middle) then the bacteria might not be killed. And if you eat it, you can get sick. There have also been cases of this food poisoning in fresh fruits and vegetables where the fields have been watered with water that is contaminated with human or animal waste. So to your question-it is very difficult to practically test for this (or any) organism. It takes as little as 10 bacteria to make you sick and since they are microscopic it would be difficult to test every cut of meat for it.

Meat is regularly inspected, but they can't test every piece of meat. The best way is to maintain sanitary conditions at the packing plant. City water departments regularly test the water for contamination before they release the water for drinking and they use chlorine to sanitize the water. The best way to be as safe as you can is to make sure you cook your food thoroughly.


E. coli is still identified by classical plating out on differential media and microscopic observation. In addition there are some more modern methods which detect DNA sequences specific for this organism. There are many antibiotics that can be tried but often times the particular strain of E. coli may be resistant to many of these antibiotics.

Ron Baker, Ph.D.

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