Insights & Actions for Healthy Living
Foodborne Illness: Know the Facts & Don’t Get Hurt By the Fiction

Foodborne Illness: Know the Facts & Don’t Get Hurt By the Fiction

It’s frustrating to hear people taking the wrong actions in response to what they hear in the news, especially when those actions can be harmful to their health.

Don’t let it happen to you.

I was exercising in my local club one day when I heard two older women talking with another group of women about fresh produce. One woman stated “I am not eating anymore lettuce or salads or fresh vegetables anymore. Did you hear about all those people who died?  I don’t want to get sick!”

As a dietitian, my ears prickle whenever I am in the community and people start talking about nutrition issues. Recently my ears were prickling off my head. I was very dismayed to hear people were changing their eating habits and eliminating healthy foods based upon the headlines without full knowledge of the issue. 

So let’s learn more about the risks and how we can prevent becoming a statistic so that we can keep healthy foods on the menu.

Foodborne Illness – What is It?

A foodborne illness is any illness that results from consuming contaminated food. 

Foodborne illness is a disease that can be toxic or infectious according to the World Health Organization (WHO). 

They state that every person in the US and globally is at risk.

Foodborne Illness Facts

  1. One out of every six people in the US becomes ill from food every year. In the US each year, around 76 million cases of foodborne diseases occur, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths.
  2. Foodborne illness can originate from food or drinking water contamination. Sometimes we eat food that is contaminated when we eat out and sometimes we become infected from food prepared in our own homes.
  3. Most foodborne illness is sporadic and usually not reported while others can cause an outbreak. The symptoms can be mild and other times they can be dangerous.
  4. The USDA tests our food supply for contamination and is striving to step up efforts to test worker hygiene, composting practices, animal runoffs and irrigation systems to ensure that the food that arrives to our tables is free from contamination.

Common Causes for Foodborne Illness

Salmonella – occurs in every country.  Food sources include: eggs, poultry, meats, raw milk, and chocolate.  Symptoms of infection include diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, headache, fever, and vomiting.

Campylobacteriosis – prevalant infection caused by raw milk, raw or undercooked poultry and drinking water.  Symptoms of this bacterial infection include nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever.  In a small percentage of cases, infection can lead to arthritis and other neurologic disorders.

E. coli and listeriosis – these have a lower incidence rate than other infections but because they can be fatal for children and elderly, they are thought to be the most serious.  Symptoms include bloody diarrhea and hemolytic uremic syndrome including kidney failure.  Food sources include ground beef, unpasteurized milk and cheese, lettuce, spinach, and water.

Cholera from Vibrio Cholerae infects people primarily in developing countries.  Contaminated drinking water and food including rice, vegetables, millet gruel and various types of seafood are sources of infection.  Symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhea resulting in dehydration and often death.

Other exposures include toxins such as mad cow disease, pollutants such as PCBs, and metals such as mercury and lead.

Preventing Foodborne Illness

  • CLEAN, SEPARATE, COOK, CHILL!
  • Wash your hands often during food preparation.
  • Keep your food surfaces clean including counter tops, cutting boards, serving utensils and plates.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables.  Wash the tops of cans before opening and keep the can opener blade clean.
  • Keep your raw and cooked food separate during the preparation process.  Use different knives, cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked meats, fruits and vegetables. Throw away marinade instead of using it as sauce.
  • Store foods separately and covered not allowing meat juices to drip on fresh foods in the refrigerator.
  • Store leftovers quickly.  After shopping, store perishable items promptly to maintain temperature.
  • Use a meat thermometer to prevent contamination-brown meat is not an indication of proper doneness.  Cook all foods to their correct internal temperature and reheat leftovers thoroughly to kill any bacteria that has grown during cooling.
  • Use a thermometer in your refrigerator and freezer to be sure your food is stored at the correct temperature.
  • Avoid raw foods such as unpasteurized milk, cheese and juice especially with vulnerable populations like children, elderly and diabetics.
  • Buy only from a reputable food source.
  • When in doubt, throw it out!

We all need fresh fruits, vegetables and a variety of foods in our diet to get the nutrition we need every day. 

Don’t avoid foods out of fear! 

Learn the facts, always use good food safety practices and stay vigilant!

“For helping spread the word about the importance of home food safety, I was entered into a drawing for a $15 Starbucks gift card and an iPad through Summertime Food Smarts, a contest run by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods’ Home Food Safety program. Home Food Safety is dedicated to raising consumer awareness about the seriousness of foodborne illness and providing solutions for easily and safely handling foods. Learn more at www.homefoodsafety.org.”

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