Proper Heat Treatment Kills Deadly E. coli Bacteria in FoodBy
Cooking regimes designed to kill deadly Escherichia coli 0157:H7
must be based on the pathogen being in its most heat-resistant state, according
to a microbiologist with USDA's Agricultural
Research Service. Bacteria previously subjected to lower heating
temperatures may be tougher to kill.
E. coli that have been subjected to only a sublethal dose of heat
can be more heat-resistant than bacteria that have not been exposed to such
heat. This is why it is so important to adequately cook food to kill foodborne
At the ARS Eastern Regional
Research Center's Food Safety Research Unit in Wyndmoor, Pa, Vijay K. Juneja
and colleagues heated beef gravy samples contaminated with E. coli
0157:H7 to 114.8·F for 15 to 30 minutes. The heat was not sufficient to
kill the bacteria, but enough to stimulate it so that it could adapt to the
stressful heating conditions. They then cooked the gravy to a final internal
temperature of 140·F.
Pre-heated E. coli survived longer at the higher temperaturea
1.5-fold increase in heat resistancethan E. coli not subjected to
sublethal temperatures. And, the increased heat tolerance lasted for at least
This research suggests to food processors that slowly heating foods to the
final cooking temperatures normally used may not kill bacteria. Heat-shocking
conditions may occur in refrigerated, cook-in-bag foods such as filled pasta,
beef stew, roasts and soups. The slow heating rate and low heating
temperatures widely used to prepare these foods may expose potential pathogens
to heat shocking conditions, thereby making the microbes even more heat-
Adequate cooking is still the best way to kill pathogenic organisms in food.
A report on the E. coli research appears in the July issue of Agricultural
Research magazine, the monthly publication of the Agricultural Research Service.
The article can be viewed on the World Wide Web at:
Scientific contact: Vijay K. Juneja, Food Safety Research Unit,
Eastern Regional Research Center, Wyndmoor, PA 19038; phone (215) 233-6500, fax
(215) 233-6406, e-mail email@example.com