Comparing Salmonella and E. coli differences and potential hazards

In many countries, E. coli is not as common as Salmonella in causing foodborne illness and outbreaks, primarily due to inadequate surveillance measures. Like Salmonella, E. coli is commonly found in animals' guts and places where animals are slaughtered, in soil and water, through which they can produce food. While Salmonella and E. coli share some similarities, there are also significant differences between the sources of these bacteria. Salmonella is more commonly associated with poultry and eggs, while E. coli is more often associated with ground beef. Additionally, E. coli is more likely to be spread through contact with infected individuals or animals, while Salmonella is more commonly spread through contaminated food and drinking water. E. coli is generally less severe than pathogens such as Listeria or Salmonella. However, some strains can cause severe illness or death, particularly in children.  

Salmonella and E. coli outbreaks in Europe in 2021  


In 2021, there was an increase in the number of salmonellosis cases reported. Of the 61,236 cases reported, 60,494 were laboratory-confirmed, a 14% increase from 2020. The highest notification rates were found in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, followed by Malta, Hungary, and France. In contrast, the lowest rates were reported in Greece, Romania, Bulgaria, Ireland, and Portugal.  

Of the 31,357 cases with reported hospitalization status, 38% required hospital treatment, and Cyprus, Greece, and Lithuania had the highest proportion of hospitalized cases. Unfortunately, at least 73 people died in 2021 due to Salmonella infections. The highest notification rate was among young children aged 0 to 4, with a rate three times higher than older children and 11 times higher than adults aged 25 to 64. The three main Salmonella types were S. enteritidis, S. typhimurium, and Monophasic Salmonella typhimurium. As in previous years, young children and the elderly generally suffer the most severe illnesses.  

While eggs and egg products remain the highest-risk foods in outbreaks, several significant incidents were linked to contaminated vegetables, fruits, and sesame seeds. In total, 44 events with Salmonella infections were reported, with 18 involving multiple countries.  

Read also: Where To Find Salmonella In Food Production Environments? 


In 2021, 6,534 confirmed cases of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) infections were reported, an increase compared to 4,824 in 2020. Germany recorded the highest number of patients, with 1,635, followed by Denmark, with 927 and Ireland, with 878. Ireland, Denmark, Malta, and Norway reported the highest country-specific rates.  

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) data shows 275 patients in 36 outbreaks across 11 countries. A food vehicle was reported in five strong-evidence outbreaks. STEC O26 in raw cow's milk and pre-cut vegetables caused an outbreak of STEC O103, and in two O157 outbreaks, the vehicle was ground meat and carpaccio.  

Read also: Where To Find E.coli In Food Production Environments? 

How does the food industry mitigate the risks of Salmonella and E. coli contaminations?  

The food industry must implement environmental monitoring programs to control and prevent the spread of foodborne pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli in food processing facilities. These programs involve regular testing of the environment, equipment, and surfaces in food processing plants to detect the presence of these pathogens. 

Environmental monitoring for these pathogens typically involves collecting swabs or sponge samples from various surfaces and equipment throughout the facility, including floors, walls, drains, and processing equipment. These samples are then analyzed directly on-site or sent to a laboratory to determine if Salmonella or E. coli bacteria are present. 

In addition, the industry is increasingly using advanced technologies such as rapid detection methods and Whole-Genome Sequencing (WGS) to improve traceability and reduce the risk of contamination by identifying potential sources of contamination and preventing the distribution of contaminated products. There is a trend towards more preventative approaches and methods that provide actionable results in the shortest possible, enabling corrective actions before the products reach the shelves.  

Overall, environmental monitoring and other food safety measures are critical for preventing the spread of Salmonella and E. coli in the food industry and ensuring the safety of the food supply. 

How to avoid contamination as a consumer?  

While the food industry closely monitors production environments and products, consumers may need to understand potential health risks fully. So here, we gathered some general measures to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading Salmonella and E. coli infections:  

  1. Proper food handling: Cook meat, poultry, and eggs thoroughly. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling raw foods.  
  2. Safe food storage: Keep raw meat and poultry separate from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination — store foods at the proper temperature to prevent bacterial growth.  
  3. Avoid risky foods: Avoid unpasteurized milk, raw or undercooked eggs, and raw sprouts.  
  4. Wash products: Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating or cooking.  
  5. Be cautious with pets and animals: Wash hands after handling pets or their feces and avoid contact with animal feces or contaminated soil.  
  6. Proper sanitation: Properly clean and sanitize all kitchen surfaces, cutting boards, and utensils.  
  7. Safe drinking water: Use only safe and clean water for drinking, cooking, and preparing beverages.  
  8. Practice good personal hygiene: Wash hands regularly, especially before preparing food, after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, and after handling pets or animals.  

Read also: Rapid Testing Methods For Salmonella Monitoring In Food Production. 

In conclusion 

Understanding the differences between Salmonella and E. coli can help individuals and businesses take steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Handling food properly is essential, as cooking meat to the appropriate temperature, and avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods. While industry standards help to monitor and regulate E. coli and Salmonella levels, continued efforts to improve surveillance and detection methods are necessary to ensure the safety of the food supply.  

Article sources: 

Back to Blog