Hamburger disease


The intestines of humans and animals are naturally populated by a great many friendly bacteria which are part of our normal intestinal flora. This is true for a bacterium called Escherichia coli. However, a harmful variety of E. coli, called Verotoxin-producing E. coli (VTEC), is capable of producing one or several powerful toxins and causing illness. This harmful variety is also called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) or enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC). This bacteria is naturally present in the intestines of cattle and other animals. 

VTEC infection is a form of food poisoning that occurs when a person eats food that is contaminated by VTEC bacteria. It is commonly called "hamburger disease" because of its association with undercooked ground beef.

Sources of infection 

VTEC is mainly transmitted by contaminated food. Although several types of food can be contaminated, the usual culprit is poorly cooked ground beef. Other cases have been traced to unpasteurized milk products, various fresh products like fruits and raw vegetables (e.g., sprouts, lettuce, spinach), unpasteurized apple juice or cider and untreated water.

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  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • bloody diarrhea (hemorrhagic colitis)

Protect and prevent

Illness and complications

  • VTEC infection is a serious disease that can lead to complications, sequelae and even death.
  • In some 5% to 15% of all cases, VTEC infection can cause a serious kidney problem called hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS can occur in healthy people of all ages, but is especially present among children under the age of five and the elderly. About 30% to 35% of people who have suffered from HUS will have long-term kidney damage and require regular medical follow-up.



  • Pasteurization and cooking destroy VTEC and many other harmful bacteria.
  • Simple preventive measures can reduce the risk of E. coli infection at home, the main one being thorough hand washing and proper hygiene when food is being handled 

Additional information

To find out what foods are under a recall order

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