Red meat and dairy food eaters face a double whammy when it comes to E. coli food poisoning. A new study shows that not only does E. coli often come from these foods but that meat and dairy also contain a compound that makes people more susceptible to E. coli poisoning. This study, from Australia, found that the bacterial toxin (subtilase cytotoxin) produced by E. coli targets cells in the body that have a sugar called Neu5Gc stuck to them. Humans don’t make this sugar; it is absorbed from red meat and dairy foods. So, meat and dairy-eaters may set themselves up for an increased risk of food-poisoning from contaminated red meat or dairy foods because these foods also contain high-levels of Neu5Gc. People with E. coli food poisoning may have bloody diarrhoea and may get a potentially fatal disease called haemolytic uraemic syndrome, also known as hamburger disease.
Byres et al., 2008. Incorporation of a non-human glycan mediates human susceptibility to a bacterial toxin. Nature. 456 (7222) 648-652.