Yersinia Enterocolitica: Intestinal Tracts of Infected Animals - Why Chitterlings is Not Part of a Healthy Diet

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What are the dangers of eating pig intestines such as chitterlings?

Raw Pig Intestines

People get infected with Yersinia enterocolitica by eating contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked pork intestines. The preparation of raw pork intestines (chitterlings) may be particularly risky. The major animal reservoir for Yersinia enterocolitica strains that cause human illness is pigs, but other strains are also found in many other animals including rodents, rabbits, sheep, cattle, horses, dogs, and cats. In pigs, the bacteria are most likely to be found on the tonsils

According to Dr. Stroube, Yersinia can cause severe and bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever. The symptoms usually begin within three to seven days after contact with the bacteria. Infants and small children who contract yersiniosis may require hospitalization, although the illness rarely causes death. Older children and adults may experience appendicitis-like stomach pain.

You can infect your infants and small children if you handle raw chitterlings and do not thoroughly wash your hands, that includes you handling their toys, bottles/formula, pacifiers and any object that comes into contact with your children...

Case in Point

In Georgia, 1989, a severe form of diarrhea in African-American infants caused by the bacterium, Yersinia enterocolitica (YE), was first associated with the preparation of Chitterlings (pork intestines) in the home. Despite the Women Infant and Children (WIC) intervention through flyers and lectures, emphasizing the importance of hand washing and protection of children from exposure, the bacterium, continued to peak in Winter months according to Data collected by the Georgia Department of Health (GA-DHR)

How to Safely Prepare Chitterlings

When preparing chitterlings, the best way to avoid bacterial contamination and illness is to buy pre-cooked chitterlings or pre-boil raw chitterlings for five minutes before preparing. This also make chitterlings easy to clean.

Preparing chitterlings is a lengthy process. Contamination within the home is hard to avoid. Baby food or formula should not be prepared or handled while preparing chitterlings due the potential for contamination. Infant formula or food should not be placed anywhere near raw chitterlings in the refrigerator. Dr. Stroube believe that the Yersinia bacteria are different than many bacteria, because they multiply and spread even in the cold

Health and Safety Tips to Prevent Infection

When cooking with raw or undercooked pork products, especially raw pork intestines, certain precautions must be taken so as not to contaminate your home and risk your children’s health and safety:

  1. Avoid eating raw or undercooked pork

  2. Wrap the container containing the raw chitterlings in plastic wrap when thawing in the refrigerator

  3. .Prevent cross-contamination in the kitchen: -Use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods. Carefully clean all cutting boards, counter-tops, and utensils with soap and

  4. Keep children out of the kitchen until the chitterlings are pre-boiled and the kitchen is thoroughly cleaned.

  5. Handle raw pork products, especially chitterlings  as little as possible until after they have been pre-boiled.

  6. Keep raw pork products away from all baby food and formula.

  7. After touching the chitterlings, wash your hands with warm water and soap, and clean under your nails.

  8. Clean sinks and all places touched by raw pork products or their juice with hot soapy water or a chlorine bleach solution.

  9. Wrap all waste promptly and throw into an outside garbage can.

  10. Clean all pots, pans, buckets and utensils in the dishwasher or in hot soapy water.

  11. Wash dishcloths, towels or sponges used in cleanup in hot water.

  12. Dispose of animal feces in a sanitary manner.

Final Thoughts:

As an Afro-American, I do not claim pig intestines as part of my heritage or culture, Knowledge through education is a wonderful thing. It was during Culinary School that I learned the scientific background of food; the physical, microbiological, and chemical makeup of food and the technical background; food safety, quality and legality, of food. It is though this  knowledge and a lot of research that I bring this information to you in hopes that people will become more aware of what they eat and should not eat.


Dr. William B. Stroube

E. Anne Peterson and Jane E. Koehler

Yersinia enterocolitica

Julie A. Albrecht, Ph.D., Associate Professor