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Water Contaminants
  Water and Health   Water Quality   Water Can Heal   Contaminants Facts   Air and Health
 
 

 

Drinking Water Contaminants - Escherichia coli,
E. coli
(Continued)

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What can I do to protect myself from E. coli O157:H7 in drinking water?

Approximately 89 percent of Americans are receiving water from community water systems that meet all health-based standards. Your public water system is required to notify you if, for any reason, your drinking water is not safe. If you wish to take extra precautions, you can boil your water for one minute at a rolling boil, longer at higher altitudes. To find out more information about your water, see the Consumer Confidence Report from your local water supplier or contact your local water supplier directly. 

If you draw water from a private well, you can contact your state health department to obtain information on how to have your well tested for total coliforms and E. coli contamination. If your well tests positive for E. coli, there are several steps that you should take: (1) begin boiling all water intended for consumption, (2) disinfect the well according to procedures recommended by your local health department, and (3) monitor your water quality to make certain that the problem does not recur. If the contamination is a recurring problem, you should investigate the feasibility of drilling a new well or install a point-of-entry disinfection unit, which can use chlorine, ultraviolet light, or ozone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests other actions that you may take to prevent E. coli infection. These include:

  • Avoid swallowing lake or pool water while swimming.
  • Thoroughly cook ground beef and avoid un-pasteurized milk.
  • Make sure that persons with diarrhea, especially children, wash their hands carefully with soap after bowel movements to reduce the risk of spreading infection, and that persons wash hands after changing soiled diapers. Anyone with a diarrhea illness should avoid swimming in public pools or lakes, sharing baths with others, and preparing food for others.
  • Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly. Because ground beef can turn brown before disease-causing bacteria are killed, use a digital instant-read meat thermometer to ensure thorough cooking. Ground beef should be cooked until a thermometer inserted into several parts of the patty, including the thickest part, reads at least 160ºF. Persons who cook ground beef without using a thermometer can decrease their risk of illness by not eating ground beef patties that are still pink in the middle.
  • If you are served an undercooked hamburger or other ground beef product in a restaurant, send it back for further cooking. You may want to ask for a new bun and a clean plate, too.
  • Avoid spreading harmful bacteria in your kitchen. Keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat foods. Wash hands, counters, and utensils with hot soapy water after they touch raw meat. Never place cooked hamburgers or ground beef on the unwashed plate that held raw patties. Wash meat thermometers in between tests of patties that require further cooking.
  • Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider. Commercial juice with an extended shelf-life that is sold at room temperature (e.g. juice in cardboard boxes, vacuum sealed juice in glass containers) has been pasteurized, although this is generally not indicated on the label. Juice concentrates are also heated sufficiently to kill pathogens.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially those that will not be cooked. Children under 5 years of age, immunocompromised persons, and the elderly should avoid eating alfalfa sprouts until their safety can be assured. Methods to decontaminate alfalfa seeds and sprouts are being investigated.

As part of the Drinking Water and Health pages, this fact sheet is part of a larger U.S. EPA publication:
EPA National Primary Drinking Water Regulations

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Read Next: Tips on Protecting Your Home from E.coli

 

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