Foodborne illness is something that most people don’t think about until they get it themselves. However, 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick from and 3,000 die each year due to foodborne illness (Centers for Disease Control, CDC). Given that the holiday season is in full swing, with Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas hams taking center stage, there’s no better time for a primer on foodborne illness.
What is it?
Foodborne illness (or food poisoning) is the general name for illness caused by more than 250 different pathogens. These pathogens include bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxic chemicals found on fruits, vegetables, meats, and cooking surfaces. The pathogens enter the body through the gastrointestinal tract and may cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, fever, diarrhea, and dehydration. Death is also possible if symptoms persist.
What can you do?
The CDC and FightBac.org suggest a number of consumer safety precautions to avoid foodborne illness. The major precautions include cleaning, separating, cooking, and chilling. Should you still be unfortunate enough to contract a foodborne illness, don’t hesitate to report your symptoms to your local health department.
- CLEAN: Wash yourself and your produce.
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, using the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime.
- SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and another cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs.
- COOK: Use a food thermometer with meat, poultry, and fish to ensure that proper internal temperatures are reached.
- Cook roasts and steaks to a minimum of 145°F, poultry to a minimum of 165°F, and fish to a minimum of 145°F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork.
- CHILL: Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
- Refrigerate leftover foods if they are not going to be eaten within 4 hours.
- Large volumes of food will cool more quickly if they are divided into several shallow containers for refrigeration.
- REPORT: Report suspected foodborne illnesses to your local health department.
- Often calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected.
- Your cooperation may be needed even if you are not ill.
Food for thought
Have you or someone you know suffered from a foodborne illness? If so, did you report the incident to your local health department? What precautions should consumers take while preparing meats, fruits, and vegetables? What internal temperatures should you cook meat in order to avoid foodborne illness?
CDC Food Safety website: http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/cdc-and-food-safety.html
Fight Bac website: http://www.fightbac.org