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July 13, 2016

E. coli and Salmonella: Culprits behind many stomach aches!

Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E. coli) are tiny bacteria that cause a great many cases of food poisoning, such as salmonellosis and hamburger disease. Where are they found? How do you minimize your risk of exposure? What are the symptoms of these infections? Here is an overview!

Where are they found?

Some of the common sources of salmonella and E. coli include:


  • Raw or undercooked food (poultry, meat and eggs)
  • Raw fruit and vegetables (washed in contaminated water)
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Foods left unrefrigerated for too long
  • Fish and shrimp

E. coli

  • Ground beef
  • Fermented meats
  • Raw fruit and vegetables (washed in contaminated water)
  • Unpasteurized dairy products
  • Non-chlorinated water
  • Unpasteurized juice or apple cider

Symptoms of salmonellosis and hamburger disease

The symptoms of food poisoning are similar to those of the flu: high fever, sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea and a headache.


  • Onset of symptoms 6 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food
  • Recovery 3 to 7 days later, most often without treatment

Warning! Even after your symptoms have disappeared, you can carry the bacteria for an extra week. This means you can spread the illness to someone else during that time.

STEC infection*

  • Onset of symptoms 1 to 10 days after eating contaminated food
  • Recovery 5 to 10 days later, most often without treatment

*Commonly called “hamburger disease” because it often develops after eating undercooked ground beef.

Warning! E. coli infection spreads easily from one person to another!
Rehydration is the main course of treatment. People infected should drink a sufficient amount of water. If needed, your pharmacist can also recommend an oral rehydration formula.

However, see a doctor in the event of significant fever and diarrhea accompanied by dehydration and weakness.

How to minimize your risk

Other than thoroughly cooking food, nothing can protect you from these bacteria! But by following these few general principles, you can stack the odds in your favour:

  • Be extremely diligent about hygiene before, during and after preparing food (hands, utensils and work surfaces)
  • Thoroughly wash fruit and vegetables before preparing or eating them
  • Do not eat certain foods raw (eggs, poultry and meat)
  • Store your food at the right temperature at all times (refrigerator  4 °C or colder, freezer -18 °C or colder)
  • Thaw, marinate and store your food in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it
  • Store and handle raw meat separately from other food
  • Avoid contact between cooked or ready-to-eat food and raw meat
  • Make sure you cook meat to the safe internal temperature. Use a food thermometer if necessary and refer to this guide on internal cooking temperatures:
  • Wash lunch bags and reusable shopping bags on a regular basis

Don’t be fooled! Salmonella and E. coli do not alter the look and smell of food. That’s why you must be extra careful!

Pharmacy services

If you have additional questions or need advice on this topic, feel free to consult your family pharmacist.

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