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A used tissue roll in the toilet.— Unsplash

E coli in meat products might be the culprit behind half a million urinary tract infections (UTIs) in the United States annually, a new study has revealed.

Researchers from George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health reported that between 480,000 and 640,000 UTIs are caused by E coli strains in food.

The study, published online in the journal One Health, claimed that the bacterium was the most common cause of UTIs as it affects 85% of the cases every year. E. coli is found in both humans and in animals, including animals that are raised only for meat. As they are slaughtered, the bacteria can spread and contaminate meat products. 

The study findings showed that most of the raw meat products in the United States are contaminated with E. coli. Some types of E. coli are monitored with seriousness but the new research suggests that other strains should also be investigated.

“We’re used to the idea that foodborne E. coli can cause outbreaks of diarrhea, but the concept of foodborne E. coli causing urinary tract infections seems strange—that is, until you recognize that raw meat is often riddled with the E. coli strains that cause these infections,” lead author Lance Price said in a statement.

The research crew gathered raw chicken, turkey, and pork from major grocery store chains and then separated E. coli from the samples. They also collected urine and blood E. coli isolates from patients with UTI.

“The study design, along with advancements in genomic technologies, allowed us to establish the linkages between food sources and the clinical cases,” Paul Keim, a co-author of the study and professor of microbiology at Northern Arizona University, said in a statement. “The conclusions from this model situation will affect public health practices worldwide.”

The findings of the new study suggest that the FDA could do a better job of monitoring the pathogens in food, most notably raw meat.

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