Food Borne Illnesses

Jun 24, 2010

What is FOOD BORNE ILLNESS? It is the body’s reaction, often diarrhea and vomiting, which occurs in response to eating food which has come into contact with bacteria in the food.  After eating contaminated food, people can develop anything from a short, mild illness, commonly called "food poisoning," to life-threatening situations from contamination and dehydration. 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 people die from food borne illnesses each year.   

Where can the bacteria come from? Your own unwashed hands, as well as those of food handlers in restaurants, processed foods manufacturers, your own kitchen food preparation surfaces and utensils, contaminated food preparation water, even the growing source/location.

Why is it worse in the summer? Warm humid weather provides the perfect conditions bacteria love in order to grow and multiply.  More people are cooking outside without things like thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities – so the likely opportunities increase. Food stuffs, particularly those with an ample supply of nutrients (like mayonnaise and milk based products like ice cream) provide just the medium needed to create the perfect storm.  One bacterium that reproduces by dividing itself every half hour can produce 17 million more in the next 12 hours.  As a result, lightly contaminated food left out overnight can be highly infectious by the next day – the more bacteria, the more easily it can cause illness. Two foodborne bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes and Yersinia enterocolitica however can actually grow at refrigerator temperatures.  High salt, high sugar or high acid levels can also keep bacteria from growing, which is why salted meats, jam, and pickled vegetables are traditional preserved foods.   Heating most foods to an internal temperature above 160 degrees fahrenheit can kill parasites, viruses and bacteria.   One bacterium, Clostridium,actually produces a heat-resistant spore killed only at temperatures above boiling. 

How do I best protect from Food Borne Illnesses?

Wash  your hands after using the rest room, changing soiled briefs or linens; handling garbage, waste or other contaminants; before handling, preparing or serving food.

Cook all rawmeats, poultry (follow temperature guides) and eggs (no runny yolks) thoroughly. 

Separate foodsUse separate storage, different cutting surfaces and utensils for raw meats and poultry, and for fruit and vegetables.

Refrigerate food whenever possible.  Put leftovers away as soon as they’re cooled, do not let stand.   Keep food covered to avoid airborne contamination from animals, insects and unclean hands.  Keep food that is not intended for immediate consumption as cool as possible (e.g.:  buffets and picnics).

Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables in running tap water to remove visible dirt and grime.  Remove and discard the outermost leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.  Use clean cutting surfaces and utensils.   Avoid preparing food for others if you yourself are ill.;