How children may be infected with STEC

The most common source of STEC in the UK is cattle, though the bacteria have also been found in faeces (poo) of other animals, including deer, rabbits, horses, pigs and wild birds.

People can become infected by:

  • eating food that is contaminated with faeces of infected animals
  • contact with infected animals, either directly or through inadvertent contact with animal faeces (for example at farms, petting farms and campsites)
  • contact with other people who have the illness (i.e. through inadequate hand hygiene after using the toilet and/or before food handling, particularly in households, nurseries and infant schools)
  • drinking water from inadequately treated water supplies
  • swimming or playing in contaminated water, such as ponds or streams.

How to help prevent infection

Hand hygiene

  • Teach good hygiene – wash hands before eating, after handling raw meat, after using the toilet or changing nappies, and after contact with animals. 
  • Supervise children closely to ensure that they wash their hands thoroughly.
  • Do not use gels or wipes instead of washing hands with soap and water. Gels and wipes do not remove E. coli O157. 


  • Cook meat products right through, especially minced meat.
  • Use separate chopping boards and kitchen utensils for raw meat and cooked or ready-to-eat foods, to avoid contamination; store raw meat at the bottom of the fridge, to avoid juices dripping onto ready-to-eat foods.
  • Only leave cooked foods, meat and dairy products out at room temperature for a short time. Avoid unpasteurised milk and cheese while your child is growing up.
  • Thoroughly wash all salad vegetables and do not prepare them with utensils that have also been used for raw meat.
  • If you have been ill with STEC, do not prepare food for others for at least 48 hours.

Visiting community farms or camping around farm animals

If your child has been in contact with animals, hand washing is especially important.

  • Do not swim in water that you think may be contaminated by cattle and sheep in nearby fields.
  • Camping or holiday homes, especially in very rural areas, may have water supplies that are not from the mains (and so can be contaminated by cattle or sheep in nearby fields).
  • Avoid touching faces or putting fingers in mouths while in farm environments. 
  • Do not kiss farm animals or allow children to put their faces close to animals. 
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching animals, fences or other surfaces in animal areas. 
  • Do not eat or drink while touching animals or walking round a farm and only eat and drink in picnic areas or cafes. 
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before eating or drinking. 
  • Remove and clean boots or shoes that might have become soiled, and clean pushchair wheels. Then wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. 

What to do if you think your child has an infection

If your child develops a tummy bug and you think it may have been caused by something he or she ate, you should take your child to your family doctor (GP) to have this confirmed. Certain illnesses, particularly those caused by food, have to be reported officially in case there is an outbreak.

Your doctor will need to report this to the local health protection unit. This will help make sure other people – especially young children and the elderly – do not catch the infection.