Enteric bacteria are bacteria in the family Enterobacteriaceae. These bacteria reside normally in the guts of many animals, including humans, and some are pathogenic, causing disease in certain animal species. Many cases of food poisoning are caused by infection with enteric bacteria, as are some more serious conditions, such as the plague. One of the most famous members of the family is Escherichia coli, a bacterium which has been studied extensively in laboratories all over the world.
These bacteria are rod shaped upon magnification, and they are also gram negative. Many are anaerobic, a trait which allows them to thrive in the environment of the gut, and most produce energy by feeding on sugars and converting them into lactic acid. Some of the members of this family can live in the gut without causing health problems in individuals of good health, while others almost always cause signs of infection, including vomiting, diarrhea, and related symptoms.
At least 40 genera have been identified in this family, including Salmonella, Proteus, Serratia, Enterobacter, Citrobacter, Pseudomonas,, and Klebsiella. People usually become infected with enteric bacteria as a result of poor hygiene and contact with people who have existing infections. Cooking food thoroughly can often prevent infection, as can observing basic handwashing protocols and maintaining a clean environment in the kitchen and around the bathroom.
In addition to being found in the guts of humans, enteric bacteria also live in animals, including the animals which humans raise for meat and products such as eggs and milk. Cross-contamination of animal products can occur, allowing these bacteria to enter the food supply. Thanks to the extensive distribution method used by many companies in the industry, it is possible for these bacteria to become spread far and wide across a region as products are dispatched to various grocers, restaurants, and packaged food facilities. This can make outbreaks tricky to identify and control.
Some enteric bacteria can be controlled with the use of antibiotics and other drugs which attack the bacteria in the gut. The widespread use of antibiotics in both people and animals used for food has led to the development of antibiotic resistance, however, in which bacteria have been allowed to develop the ability to survive even high doses of antibiotics. E. coli in particular has developed a number of very virulent strains which have raised concern in the medical community, as some of these strains cannot be treated with the medications available on the market.