IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Protect your family from salmonella and E. coli

TODAY food editor Phil Lempert offers tips on proper storage and cooking to help keep yourself and your family safe from dangerous food poisoning.
/ Source: TODAY

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year there were nearly 33 million cases of microbial food-borne diseases recorded just in the U.S. and more than 9,000 related deaths according to the National Center for Health Statistics. This makes it pretty clear that as consumers we need to know more about preventing food-borne illnesses — especially in the case of Salmonella and E. coli.

Salmonella are bacteria, that when eaten pass through the stomach and into the intestine where they bind to the wall and actually penetrate the wall’s barrier and are taken to the liver or spleen; where they can cause diseases of the intestines (sometimes fatal) in humans and animals.

Most infections with salmonella have been traced back to dairy, poultry and meat products, but salmonella can grow on just about any food. Chickens and eggs are particularly high risk foods. The USDA estimates that the average consumer eats an undercooked egg 20 times a year.

There are three basic types of Salmonella: Typhimurium, Enteritidis, and Typhi:

What can you do to prevent Salmonella infections?
The best way of avoiding salmonella infections is make sure that all foods are thoroughly cooked. Eggs must always be cooked thoroughly. Seventy-five percent of all cases of salmonella have been linked to foods containing raw or undercooked eggs. Be sure to cook eggs 'til the yolks are firm and never runny. Never use raw eggs in homemade salad dressings or mayonnaise, cookie dough or any other recipes; keep in mind that manufacturers used pasteurized eggs when they produce these foods.

E. coli
Often, when you read about a food safety problem there seems to be warnings about E. coli being found in hamburger, fruits or other produce. E. coli is the abbreviated name for the Enterobacteriaceae named Escherichia (Genus) coli (Species) which is approximately 0.1 percent of the total bacteria within an adult's intestines.

This “Bad Bug” is a rare strain E. coli O157:H7, which causes severe damage to intestinal epithelial cells (the cells that line the wall of the intestine). The damage is so severe that if we eat foods or ingest this bacterial strain, our bodies lose water and salts, our blood vessels are damaged, and bleeding occurs and hemorrhaging.

E. coli is particularly dangerous to small children, the elderly and immune deficient and may be lethal, as these groups cannot tolerate much blood and fluid loss. For this reason, these groups should not be allowed to become dehydrated, even in mild cases of diarrhea.

As we have heard in the headlines recently, it  is critical to understand that meat is not the only source of contamination with E. coli or other dangerous bacteria — any contaminated water source or contaminated person can spread these bacteria onto fruits, vegetables, or any kind of foods. Be sure to wash fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly before eating. And if you like your meat and especially hamburgers, "rare", you are taking a significant risk. 

Talking about meat… one of the reasons to make sure that all meat is thoroughly cooked is that as the meat is cut with a knife (or punctured with a fork) the utensil will carry the bacterial cells down into the cut or puncture.  Bacteria are microscopic so even a tiny, pretty much invisible cut in the meat could introduce bacteria inside. It's always safest to cook all meat at least until the juices of the meat run absolutely clear — not pink.

Top tips to prevent salmonella and E. coli:

  • Always wash hands, dishes, utensils and counter surfaces often while preparing and cooking all foods
  • When preparing or cooking raw meats, poultry or other foods, clean surfaces and hands with hot soapy water and use paper towels and discard immediately
  • Never use the same plate, tray or utensils for the cooked meat that you use for the raw meat
  • Separate raw meat, poultry, and seafood from other foods in your refrigerator
  • Always cook all foods thoroughly. Meats, poultry, pork and especially ground meats, should be cooked until the juices run absolutely clear.  

Food safety technology for the kitchen
In addition to these easy steps, there is a new product on the market that safely, effectively and consistently reduces microbial contamination during food preparation without the use of chemicals.

CuisineClean™is a countertop system designed to purify fruits and vegetables through the use of ozone, an FDA approved process that utilizes Activated Oxygen to naturally oxidize bacteria, fungi and other odor producing particles on the foods' surface and helps kill bacteria including salmonella, E-coli, Listeria giardia and cryptosporidium. Retail price is $199.99

How it works: Using a wash cycle, these machines wash the physical dirt of off the surface of produce and use an electronic ozone generator to produce the powerful oxidizing ozone to sterilize and disinfect, degrade residual pesticides and break down toxins. For more food safety information visit Phil’s website

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .