You know and dread the feeling—that painful, burning, gotta-go-all-the-time sensation that signals a urinary tract infection (UTI). But you may not know that bacteria from the chicken you ate for dinner could be the culprit behind your UTI. Yet that’s exactly what a new study suggests.

This type of infection is more than a mere annoyance. The bacteria that cause a UTI can travel from the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) to the bladder to the kidneys, potentially damaging the kidneys and even leading to life-threatening septicemia if the infection invades the bloodstream. Women are more prone to UTIs than men. And, scarily, the Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria that cause more than 85% of UTIs are increasingly resistant to drugs. In many cases, it is believed, UTI-causing bacteria come from a person’s own intestinal tract—but how do they get there in the first place? New research points the finger at poultry, calling chicken an E. coli “reservoir.”

Researchers compared the E. coli strains from 737 samples of retail chicken, beef and pork meat sold at stores with the E. coli present in 475 humans who had UTIs. They found that the bacteria in beef and pork bore little genetic resemblance to the UTI strains…but the E. coli from chicken matched the genetic fingerprint of the UTI-causing bacteria.

Self-defense: Safe food-handling practices can reduce the E. coli in the chicken you eat and thus may help prevent the transfer of the bacteria that cause UTIs. When dealing with chicken…

Bag it. At the meat counter, immediately put packaged chicken into a plastic bag and seal it so the drippings won’t contaminate the other food in your shopping cart.

Keep it cold. Raw chicken should be stored in the refrigerator at 40°F or in the freezer at 0°F. When thawing frozen chicken or marinating poultry, do so in the fridge, not on the kitchen counter.

Wash well. After handling raw chicken, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and running water…and sanitize your utensils and cutting board in the dishwasher. But: Do not rinse raw chicken before cooking—that only increases the chances of spreading bacteria to your sink and other surfaces.

Cook it right. Chicken should reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours.