The Real Deal: While E. coli (short for Escherichia coli) is typically associated with eating undercooked ground beef, people have also gotten sick from consuming contaminated bean sprouts or leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach. In 2006, an E. coli outbreak traced to bagged baby spinach struck more than 200 people and killed three. "Fruits and vegetables may be exposed to tainted water or soil," explains Robert Gravani, Ph.D., a professor of food science at Cornell University. The bacteria, which live in the digestive systems of cattle and pigs, are passed into their manure. When that waste is used as fertilizer, the bacteria can travel through the ground or water supply.
Although most types of E. coli are harmless, one virulent strain can cause stomach cramps, diarrhea, or in severe cases, kidney damage.
If you've been exposed (symptoms start around two to eight days afterward), drink plenty of water and wait for it to pass through your system in about a week. Although it sounds counterintuitive, avoid anti-diarrheal medications: They slow down your intestinal function, giving the bacteria more time to attack your body. See your doctor if you're sick for longer than a week or if you have bloody diarrhea or a fever, which may signal a kidney complication.
Remove the outer layer of a head of lettuce
Rinse all produce