Cindy from Wisconsin asked…

Newspapers and television keep mentioning the risks associated with E Coli poisoning from water and food. I know we can test our well for E Coli, but what about food? Can we test the food we buy for E Coli? What steps can we take at home to prevent E Coli food poisoning?

You’ve asked an excellent question, Cindy. Many people associate E. Coli poisoning only with food or only with drinking water when, in fact, a person can get sick from E. Coli poisoning from both.

You mentioned testing your well water for the presence of E. Coli bacteria and that definitely makes sense. While not all E. Coli bacteria pose a threat to humans, the presence of E. Coli at all signals the need for a more through analysis of the water and/or a sanitizing of the well.

Little known fact: Not all strands of Coliform Bacteria harm humans

We do not know of any simple ways to test food for the the presence of E. Coli bacteria, though one COULD test the water used to wash produce and meats before cooking for bacteria…

The Mayo Clinic had this to say regarding ways to prevent the possible spread of E. Coli at home:

“No vaccine or medication can protect you from E. coli-based illness, though researchers are investigating potential vaccines. To reduce your chance of being exposed to E. coli, avoid risky foods and avoid cross-contamination.

Risky foods

Avoid pink hamburger. Hamburgers should be well-done. Meat, especially if grilled, is likely to brown before it is completely cooked, so use a meat thermometer to ensure that meat is heated to at least 160 F (71 C) at its thickest point. If you don’t have a thermometer, cook ground meat until no pink shows in the center.

* Drink pasteurized milk, juice and cider. Any boxed or bottled juice kept at room temperature is likely to be pasteurized, even if the label doesn’t say so.

* Wash raw produce thoroughly. Although washing produce won’t necessarily eliminate all E. coli – especially in leafy greens, which provide many spots for the bacteria to attach themselves – careful rinsing can remove dirt and reduce the amount of bacteria that may be clinging to the produce.

Avoid cross-contamination

* Wash utensils. Use hot, soapy water on knives, counter tops and cutting boards before and after they come into contact with fresh produce or raw meat.

* Keep raw foods separate. This includes using separate cutting boards forraw meat and foods, such as vegetables and fruits. Never put cooked hamburgers on the same plate you used for raw patties.

* Wash your hands. Wash your hands after preparing or eating food, using the bathroom or changing diapers. Make sure that children also wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom and after contact with animals.”


For those interested in testing their water for bacteria, the following two tests work well for drinking water applications:

Test Products: Bacteria Check
48 Hour P/A Test for
Coliform Bacteria

Test Products: Coliform & E. Coli Bacteria Test
24 Hour P/A Test for
Coliform & E. Coli Bacteria

For those interested in performing field testing for additional parameters in their water, kits such as the WaterSafe Well Water Test Kit include a test for coliform bacteria as well as tests for other critical water parameters such as Copper, Lead, Nitrites, Nitrates, Pesticides and more.