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Yersinia enterocolitica can grow at temperatures as low as 32º to 36ºF (0º to 2ºC).

Some history

Yersinia enterocolitica was first discovered to be a human pathogen in 1939; however, it was only recognized as a cause of food-borne disease in the 1970’s.

What is Yersinia enterocolitica, and where is its natural habitat?

Yersinia enterocolitica is cold-tolerant and can grow slowly in refrigerated food. It has been detected in many kinds of animals, and in surface waters. The serotypes that most frequently cause human disease are most likely to be found in the mouth and intestinal tract of healthy pigs, although the microbe has been detected in a variety of meats, milk, other dairy products, seafood and environmental waters.

How is Yersinia enterocolitica transmitted? What is the incubation period of the infection?

The disease is transmitted when an individual consumes food or water contaminated by one of the pathogenic strains of the bacterium. Two past outbreaks involved children who ate raw chitterlings (raw pork intestines), a traditional winter holiday dish among members of the African-American community. The incubation period can range from one day to 11 days.

What is yersiniosis? How long does it take to develop?

Yersinia enterocolitica infections in younger children usually result in enterocolitis – diarrhea, low-grade fever and abdominal pain. In older children and young adults, the infection may produce symptoms that resemble appendicitis. Symptoms typically require from one to 11 days to develop.

What are the symptoms of Yersinia enterocolitica infections?

Symptoms may include diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and vomiting. The severity of the symptoms depends upon the age of the victim and the size of the dose. The disease symptoms last from one to three weeks in most cases.

What is the prognosis of a Yersinia enterocolitica infection?

Most infections are self-limiting; however, complications and secondary illnesses can include appendicitis, arthritis, erythema nodosum, bacteremia, or extraintestinal infections. Among individuals who develop bacteremia (infection of the bloodstream), the fatality rate is 34-50%.

What foods carry Yersinia enterocolitica?

Yersinia enterocolitica has been found in meats (beef, poultry, lamb and, especially pork), milk and other dairy products, and seafood. Many – but not all – of the strains found in food are not pathogenic to humans.

How can people protect themselves from Yersinia enterocolitica infections?

Yersinia enterocolitica is killed during pasteurization of milk and by normal cooking procedures. Ways to minimize the risk of contracting an infection include:

  • Always cook pork, beef, lamb and poultry thoroughly, to an internal temperature of 165ºF (74ºC)
  • Take care to avoid contact between raw meat juices and foods that are ready-to-eat, including cooked meats, side dishes, salads and desserts
  • Wash and sanitize hands, utensils and work surfaces after working with any raw meat
  • Avoid consuming raw milk and dairy products made using unpasteurized milk
  • Avoid drinking untreated water
  • Always wash hands after touching a pet or barnyard animal
  • Do not allow toddlers and young children to play with pets or barnyard animals unsupervised.

For more information on Yersinia enterocolitica and other food-borne pathogens, visit the CDC website or read Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives.