Food safety is an important topic in our ever-changing food environment.
September is National Food Safety Month, a great time to learn about food safety and its value.
It is as important as our health, because our health depends on it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 (or 48 million) people each year are victims of foodborne illness or food poisoning and 3,000 people a year die from foodborne illness.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) reports that “reducing foodborne illness by just 1 percent would keep about 500,000 Americans from getting sick each year. Reducing foodborne illness by 10 percent would keep about 5 million from getting sick.”
That makes food safety important and valuable to our lives.
An outbreak occurs when two or more people have been affected by a food contaminant.
It is hard to characterize how many people are affected by foodborne illness because it is very much underreported. Many chalk up illness as a stomach bug and not foodborne illness to be reported.
You and your family may have been victims and not know it. You will likely be at risk in the future.
Our Food Supply
More and more frequently our food is picked, packaged and even prepared away from our own kitchens.
We eat on the run, out of a box, in the car and in situations where we don’t know how or when our foods were prepared.
This type of eating can lead to food poisoning.
Our food supply continues to take hits, with food safety recalls and alerts making us fearful of eating much of anything from the supermarket. In reality, our food supply is being more regulated and manufacturers held more responsible for the safety of the food they produce. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service is taking a stronger role in our food safety.
Restaurants are being held to higher standards and training their cook and wait staff to practice safe food handling.
We need to be aware of where our food comes from, how it is prepared and when it could be at risk of contamination but we also need to practice safe food handling in our own kitchens to keep our families healthy.
We are bombarded every day with new food recalls that could signal our families are at risk.
Did you know that foreign materials in our food products are the number one customer complaint to regulatory agencies and food manufacturers?
You have probably heard about specific foods you use often containing particles like glass, plastic, metal shavings and sawdust, in just the past year!
Our food has the potential to be contaminated in three ways – chemical, physical or biological.
- Chemical contaminants include pesticides, whitening agents, cleaning solutions
- Physical contaminants are things like hair, glass, metal shards, sawdust, bugs, dirt
- Biological contaminants include bacteria, microbes, mold, viruses and other pathogens, which can be spread by human contact, pests or unsanitary equipment. There are 31 known pathogens that lead to food poisoning.
When food has been found or suspected of being contaminated in some way, a food recall is issued by the manufacturer.
Foodborne Illness-Causing Pathogens
The CDC finds that the top 5 pathogens causing foodborne illnesses are:
- Clostridium perfringens
- Staphylococcus aureus
The leading causes of illness are:
- Nontyphoidal Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Listeria and Norovirus caused the greatest number of deaths
- Nontyphoidal Salmonella, Norovirus, Campylobacter and Toxoplasma caused the greatest number of hospitalizations
- Norovirus caused the most illnesses
Allergens that are unexpected in our food supply can also create illness for many. For example, if you are allergic to nuts and there are peanuts in a product that the ingredient label says is peanut-free, that product could lead to life threatening illness.
Mislabeled or mispackaged foods containing allergens have been the subject of numerous food alerts.
Avoiding Foodborne Illness
We can reduce our risk of becoming ill from the food that we eat by taking a few actions in our own kitchens.
- Wash your hands frequently – between tasks not just at the start of meal prep!
- Don’t leave food sitting out on the counter or serving table. Maintain proper food temperatures of all food you serve to prevent it from reaching the temperature danger zone where pathogens can multiply.
- Prevent cross-contamination of foods by separating meal preparation surfaces and utensils. Have different cutting boards for raw and cooked foods, keep counters clean between meal prep, use different knives and utensils for raw and cooked foods, don’t use marinades at the table without heating.
- Store foods properly in refrigerator and freezer, monitoring the temperature of these units. Keep raw foods below cooked foods to prevent dripping of raw juices into cooked foods. Store leftovers promptly and reheat thoroughly.
- Defrost foods in the refrigerator or microwave, not out on the counter.
- Use food thermometers to be sure your food is thoroughly cooked to kill harmful microbes. The color or odor of a food is not indicative of its safety.
- Clean your produce even when you aren’t eating the peel.
- Handle baby food and infant formula properly to prevent illness in children whose immune systems are not fully developed. Keep them stored properly, don’t double dip or share spoons and discard unused baby food after three days. When making formula, don’t overmix more that you will need as bacteria can multiply in stored containers.
- Examine the food for damage such as dented cans, ill-fitting lids, buttons that are popped, expiration dates, rusty lids, swelling pouches and discard any that are suspicious.
- Don’t forget your pets. Store their food in the same way you would food for the family. Keep it out of the temperature danger zone. Give them fresh, clean water and keep their food and water bowls clean.
We also need to be aware when buying food or eating foods prepared by others of the potential for foodborne illness.
There’s An App For That
Technology has been developed to help us prevent foodborne illness in the form of a mobile app.
The USDA has created a smartphone app called ‘FoodKeeper’ that can be used to determine food storage safety for the food in your own kitchen.
It helps you decide if food is safe to use, gives food preparation tips and helps reduce food waste.
It is available in both iOS and Android versions.
We also encourage you to check out how Detective Foodsafe® answers your questions about common situations that can endanger your family.
We have compiled a variety of articles that are enjoyable, educational and can help you face your food safety challenges too!
Food safety is in our hands and by being aware of how we influence our families’ health we can prevent illness in our own homes.