E. coli was officially considered an enteric disease in 1982, when it was determined to be the cause of a foodborne illness outbreak. Since that time, widely publicized E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks have devastated families and communities across the globe.

While the majority of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with E. coli O157:H7 have been linked to ground beef, outbreaks have been linked to produce such as lettuce, spinach, and sprouts. Outbreaks have also been linked to E. coli-contaminated apple and orange juice. Several other instances of E. coli outbreaks have been linked to cross-contamination of food products.

In addition to food products, E. coli outbreaks have been linked to contaminated water in swimming pools and lakes, as well as to dust particles in animal pens and at petting zoos.