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E.Coli? Maybe, maybe not…

When an employee tells you they have e coli… don’t panic.

We’ve all heard about E.Coli outbreaks, been warned to avoid raw cookie dough and unpasteurized milk, and dealt with recalls of various food items over the years. But E.Coli bacteria are incredibly common, and only certain types of illnesses that they cause are the notorious ones that we tend to think of when we think of E.Coli.

E.Coli or UTI?

So next time an employee calls to tell you that they have E.Coli, don’t panic. More often than not, they have something that we know by a different name: a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). 


Nearly 85% of UTIs are caused by that very same E.Coli bacteria in the urinary tract. While uncomfortable, UTIs are not something that we’re particularly worried about in a food service setting. 

Gastrointestinal E.Coli is cause to worry. UTIs aren’t. 

We are only worried about gastrointestinal E.Coli -- that’s the reportable illness. E.Coli bacteria in other areas, e.g. in your nose or urinary tract are not reportable and not foodborne illness. 


So, when an employee calls to tell you they have E.Coli, ask a few questions. What are their symptoms? Did they have diarrhea and vomiting? Another clue: did they give stool or urine samples? If they just gave a urine sample, it’s likely they just have a UTI. 


Employees with a UTI should see their doctor to get an antibiotic, but they’re usually able to work when they feel up to it because a UTI is not transmissible in food handling. It’s when we hear about GI symptoms in E.Coli that we should be worried.

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