Is chicken for dinner giving you a urinary tract infection?

E. coli bacteria cause six to eight million urinary tract infections every year, mostly in women. And more and more of those bugs are shrugging off the antibiotics that we use to treat them.

“We don’t understand where people are picking up these antibiotic-resistant strains,” says Lance Price, professor of environmental and occupational health at the George Washington University School of Public Health. “But if we’re serious about tackling this problem, then we need to investigate food as a possible source.”

first link between chicken and UTIs

More than a decade ago, researchers investigating a cluster of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in California discovered that they were linked to a unique drug-resistant strain of E. coli that was also found in raw chicken sold there. (1)  “That started the idea that maybe poultry products were a source of exposure to the E. coli that caused those uri­nary tract infections,” says Price.


Some researchers have dubbed the infections FUTIs (FOO-tees), for “foodborne urinary tract infections.”

In 2012 Price and his co-workers collected samples of raw turkey, chicken, and pork from all nine major grocery chains in Flagstaff, Arizona. They also obtained blood and urine samples from UTI patients in the city’s only hospital. (2)

Then they compared the genetic fingerprints of the E. coli and Kleb­siella pneumoniae (another bug that can cause UTIs) that were in the food with the fingerprints of the E. coli and Klebsiella that were in the patients.


There were matches for both bacteria.

“It’s very compelling evidence that E. coli are bleeding over from the food supply and causing UTIs,” says Price. “And the fact that we were able to find pairs of Kleb­siella strains that were so closely related in food and in sick patients suggests that food is also probably an important source of Klebsiella-caused UTIs.”

What’s probably happening, says Price, is that people are contaminating their kitchens with bacteria from raw poultry and meat. “Then they inadvertently get those bacteria in their mouths, and the bacteria colonize the gut and then eventual­ly make their way out of the gut and over to the urinary tract.”

And those bacteria are increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

“This summer I cared for two patients with diabetes and urinary tract infec­tions caused by a highly resistant strain of E. coli,” Barbara Murray, then-presi­dent of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told a U.S. House of Repre­sentatives committee in 2014. “Both had to be admitted to the hos­pital for intravenous therapy because their infections were resistant to all oral antibiotics. Probably every woman by the age of 60 has had at least one UTI, and there is now no reliable oral antibi­otic for complicated UTIs.”

How can you protect yourself?

  • Keep a separate cutting board for raw meat, poultry, and seafood, and wash your hands and all surfaces thoroughly after handling them.
  • Whenever possible, choose meat and poultry that was raised without antibiotics.

Sources: (1) Clin. Infect. Dis. 40: 251, 2005; (2) Clin. Infect. Dis. 61: 892, 2015.

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4 Replies to “Is chicken for dinner giving you a urinary tract infection?”

  1. Many thanks for this very important new information! Once again, CSPI has proven to be an invaluable resource for up to date and news breaking info on food and health!

  2. It is actually frustrating to so often read about unhealthful side effects of eating that can be prevented and keep us from a lack of trust in the publec food supply, Keeping a cool,calm attitude must be cultivated or one could be far too unhappy.It all ames you think the food industry does not care enough and takes advantage of us, our vulnerability.When supermarkets did not properly chill chicken I bought a special laser thing to find out for myself.It was shocking.I was prompted by being sick for 6 months after eating my favorite bourbon salmon in packages that definitely were not chilled enough.

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