Have you ever had the “stomach flu” or a 24-hour “bug”? There’s a good chance it was actually caused by food poisoning.
Foodborne disease outbreaks and food poisoning are more common than we may realize. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), foodborne diseases cause about 48 million illnesses each year in the United States. That means one in six Americans will consume a contaminated food or beverage and get sick; 128,00 will be hospitalized and 3,000 will die each year. The annual cost is a staggering $15.6 billion.
In 2014 there were 864 foodborne disease outbreaks reported to the CDC. An outbreak is defined as when two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food. These outbreaks resulted in 13,246 illnesses, 712 hospitalizations, 21 deaths and 21 food recalls. This does not include the unreported incidences of food poisoning in individual homes.
The most common single food categories were (in order of frequency) seeded vegetables such as cucumbers and tomatoes, chicken, fish and dairy (most of which were due to unpasteurized dairy products). Restaurants – especially those with sit-down dining – are the most commonly reported locations for food preparation outbreaks.
Foods or beverages that contain dangerous bacteria will usually cause illness within one to three days after consuming it. However, it can also occur within 20 minutes or up to six weeks later. Symptoms can include vomiting, diarrhea and/or stomach pain, and flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches.
If you think you are experiencing food poisoning contact your doctor immediately. He or she may instruct you to go to an emergency room. You may also contact MedWatch – the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) safety information and adverse-event reporting program – at 1-800-332-1088; or file a voluntary report with the FDA click here (fda.gov/medwatch).
To avoid foodborne illness, practice these food safety tips throughout the year. They are especially important during the summer when warm temperatures, picnics and barbeques provide seasonal challenges for food safety.
Cook to the right temperature
- Cook food thoroughly. Burgers should be cooked to 160 degrees; chicken to at least 165 degrees; steaks, fish and pork to 145 degrees.
- Always use a food thermometer because you cannot tell if a food is done by color and texture alone. Insert it into the thickest or deepest part of the food.
- Maintain cold food below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, frozen food below 0 degrees and hot food above 140 degrees. Bacteria in food multiply fastest between 40 and 140 degrees. That means summer heat makes food-holding temps especially important.
- Microwave to 165 degrees and stir food halfway through cooking it. Don’t skimp on the time the food label says to let the microwaved food stand before serving. This lets the food cook more completely and that is crucial to food safety. After waiting, be sure to check with a thermometer to be sure it’s at least 165 degrees.
- Maintain hot foods at a safe temperature with a chafing dish, warming tray or slow cooker. The potential for bacterial growth increases as foods cool.
- Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. Avoid foods with raw or under-cooked eggs.
- Bring soups, sauces and gravies to a full boil when reheating.
- Keep raw and cooked food totally separate. If a plate or utensil was used for raw food, never use it for cooked food without washing it in hot, soapy water.
- Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
- Never reuse marinade that you used for raw meat. If you want to use the marinade as a sauce, reserve a separate portion for the cooked food. And keep it refrigerated.
- Reduce grilling time by partially cooking food in the microwave or oven. But do it immediately before placing on the grill.
- Don’t leave food out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours. If the air temperature is above 90 degrees, reduce holding time to one hour.
- Consume any hot food you bring to a picnic within two hours of purchase/preparation. To transport it, wrap well and place in an insulated container.
- Keep cold foods like potato or chicken salad below 40 degrees. Serve them in a shallow container that’s set in a deep pan filled with ice. Drain off the water and replace the ice as it melts.
- Keep beverages in one cooler (that gets opened a lot) and perishable foods in another (that you can keep closed until serving time).
- Wash fresh fruits and veggies before packing in the cooler.
Wash hands and prep surfaces often
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before preparing or handling food, and after food handling, using the bathroom, changing diapers and handling pets.
- Wash cutting boards, counter tops, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before going to the next food.
- Wash fresh fruits and vegetables by gently rubbing them under plain running water, including those with skins or rinds you don’t eat. There is no need to use soap or commercial produce wash.
- Wash produce before you peel or cut it. Cutting through a contaminated skin or rind quickly transfers the bacteria to the part you eat. Throw away the outermost leaves of cabbage or lettuce heads.
- Wash the lids of canned good before opening.
- Refrigerate foods as soon as you can, but, if perishable, within two hours of preparation.
- Avoid over-stuffing the frig. Cold air needs room to circulate freely around foods to cool them and keep them at a safe temperature.
- Keep a refrigerator thermometer in the frig and check it at least monthly to be sure it’s maintaining a safe temperature – at or below 40 degrees. The freezer should be 0 degrees or below.
- Thaw frozen food safely: in the frig, submerged in cold water, or in a microwave. Never leave it out on the counter top to thaw.
- Marinate food in the frig.
- Store fresh fruits and veggies in the frig.
- Choose pre-cut, bagged or packaged produce only if it is refrigerated or surrounded by ice. At home, keep it refrigerated.
- Throw out left-overs within three days, just to be safe. This includes take-out foods and “doggie bags.”
- Keep the inside of your frig clean by washing the inside walls and shelves with warm water and liquid soap, followed by clear water rinse. Bacteria can continue to grow at cold temperatures and can contaminate other refrigerated foods. Always promptly clean up spills from meat, poultry, hot dogs and cold cuts.
- Wrap or cover foods before refrigerating.
- Avoid letting raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs come in contact with any other food or beverage. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria are spread from one food or beverage, or one food surface or utensil, to another.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods at all times. This means in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, refrigerator and throughout their preparation, including cutting boards, counters and utensils. Eggs are safest if refrigerated in their carton.
- Regularly wash dish cloths, towels and cloth grocery bags in your washing machine’s hot water cycle.
- Never store onions or potatoes under your sink. Store in a cool, dry place.
- Never use the same cabinet to store food near cleaning products or poisons.
- Check canned goods for dents, swelling, leakage, punctures, holes, cracks, deep rust or stickiness on the outside of the can. This could indicate an unsafe product.
A word about raw milk
- Avoid raw milk and dairy products made from raw milk. Raw milk has not been pasteurized and can carry harmful germs (bacteria, parasites and viruses) that can make you very sick or even cause death. Raw milk carries one of the highest risks for foodborne illness.
Pasteurized dairy products are those that have been heated to 161 degrees for 15 seconds and then rapidly cooled and stored in clean, closed containers at 40 degrees or below. Pasteurization does not kill the nutrients in milk. Pasteurization is so important because the harmful germs (killed by pasteurization) usually do not change the look, taste or smell of milk. So, you can’t tell if a dairy product is safe by looking, smelling or tasting it. The only guarantee is if it is labeled as pasteurized or made from pasteurized milk.
Contaminated raw milk can cause days of diarrhea, stomach cramping and vomiting. More severe cases can cause kidney failure, paralysis, chronic disorders and even death. The risk is greater for young children, older people and those with a weak immune system such as a patient with cancer, HIV/AIDS or an organ transplant.