Food-Bourne Illnesses

Many people slow their pace a bit during the summer, but not the nation’s food borne disease investigators. Summer is their busy season, because it’s also the busy season for bugs. Not mosquitoes and flies - but those microscopic menaces like E. coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella, which thrive in warm temperatures.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States. The great majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two.  Some cases are more serious, and CDC estimates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases each year.  The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old, the very young, those who have an illness already that reduces their immune system function, and in healthy people exposed to a very high dose of an organism.

There are a few simple precautions that can reduce the risk of foodborne diseases

  • Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly.  Using a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of meat is a good way to be sure that it is cooked sufficiently to kill bacteria.  For example, ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160o F.  Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm. 
  • Don't cross-contaminate one food with another.  Avoid cross-contaminating foods by washing hands, utensils, and cutting boards after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry and before they touch another food.  Put cooked meat on a clean platter, rather back on one that held the raw meat. 
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly.  Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, so 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. 
  • Wash produce.  Rinse 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.  Because bacteria can grow well on the cut surface of fruit or vegetable, be careful not to contaminate these foods while slicing them up on the cutting board, and avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for many hours. Don't be a source of foodborne illness yourself.  Wash your hands with soap and water before preparing food.  Avoid preparing food for others if you yourself have a diarrheal illness.  Changing a baby's diaper while preparing food is a bad idea that can easily spread illness. 

As long as workers follow good food safety and sanitation practices, most outbreaks can be prevented. Just stick to the basics above, like properly chilling and cooking foods, frequently washing hands, sanitizing surfaces, preventing cross contamination, and pathogens will find surviving in your kitchen is no day at the beach. 

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