Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) infections are a significant public health issue, with foodborne transmission causing >1 million illnesses worldwide each year. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis (PROSPERO registry # CRD42017074239), to determine the relative association of different food types with sporadic illnesses caused by STEC. Searches were conducted from 01 August to 30 September 2017, using bibliographic and grey literature databases, websites and expert consultation. We identified 22 case-control studies of sporadic STEC infection in humans, from 10 countries within four World Health Organization subregions, from 1985 to 2012. We extracted data from 21 studies, for 237 individual measures in 11 food categories and across three status types (raw or undercooked, not raw and unknown). Beef was the most significant food item associated with STEC illness in the Americas and Europe, but in the Western Pacific region, chicken was most significant. These findings were not significantly moderated by the raw or cooked status of the food item, nor the publication year of the study. Data from the African, South-East Asian and Eastern Mediterranean subregions were lacking and it is unclear whether our results are relevant to these regions.