Here's a look at what you need to know about E. coli outbreaks.
General Information: (from the CDC) There are many strains of the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli). Most strains are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals.
Some kinds of E. coli cause disease by producing Shiga toxin. The bacteria that make these toxins are called "Shiga toxin-producing" E. coli (STEC). The most commonly found STEC in the U.S. is E. coli O157:H7.
The symptoms of STEC infections can include stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting. Some infections are mild, but others can be life-threatening.
The CDC estimates that 265,000 STEC infections occur each year in the U.S. E. coli O157:H7 causes over 36% of these infections.
E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized in 1982.
People of all ages can be infected, but young children and the elderly are more likely to develop severe symptoms.
The types of E. coli that can cause illness can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or people.
Prevention: To avoid E. coli infections, experts advise to thoroughly cook meat, avoid unpasteurized dairy products and juices, avoid swallowing water while swimming, and wash hands regularly.
1998 - The Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points program (HACCP) begins requiring meat processors to establish critical checkpoints in the plants to prevent pathogens from contaminating meat. - Inspectors from the food-safety agency randomly test all facilities that grind meat products to make sure that the plants are complying with the HACCP program.
1999 - The USDA approves the irradiation process for meat. Irradiation is a process that uses beams of high-speed electrons to kill E. coli and other bacteria.
May 2000 - Huisken Meats of Sauk Rapids, Minnesota becomes the first meat processor to begin selling irradiated ground beef to retailers.
June 2009 - Epitopix LLC, a Minnesota based veterinary pharmaceutical company, begins licensing a new vaccine for cows that reduces the transmission of E. coli between cows and humans.
Timeline of selected severe E. coli O157:H7 cases in the U.S. Jack in the Box - January 1993 The Jack in the Box outbreak kills 3 children and makes about 500 people sick in the Northwest U.S.
The Jack in the Box incident leads the Clinton administration to begin random testing for E. coli in ground beef.
The meatpacking industry sues the USDA to block the tests. The USDA wins the lawsuit.
Hudson Foods - August 1997 August 12, 1997 - 25 million pounds of meat produced at a Hudson Foods plant in Columbus, Neb. is recalled.
Fifteen people become ill as a result of the contamination.
After this recall the plant's largest customer, Burger King, stops buying meat from Hudson Foods and the company closes down.
ConAgra Beef Co. - July 2002 July 19, 2002 - 19 million pounds of meat produced at the ConAgra Beef Co.'s Greeley, Colo. plant is recalled.
At least 35 people become ill due to this meat contamination and one person dies.
The contaminated meat is shipped to at least 21 states.
Prepackaged Spinach - First occurs in September 2006 September 14, 2006 - The FDA issues a warning to consumers about an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in multiple states. The warning states, "preliminary epidemiological evidence suggests that bagged fresh spinach may be a possible cause of this outbreak."
Fall 2006 - At least 199 cases of E. coli infection occur in 26 states. Three people die and about 31 develop Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), a dangerous complication that can lead to kidney failure.
The outbreak is most severe in Wisconsin, where 49 cases are reported to the FDA, and one death is confirmed.