Food recalls have increased in recent years, but that’s good news. It means contaminated products from salad greens to ice cream pops are being tested and pulled off the shelves faster.
Yet, 1 in 6 Americans still experiences a foodborne illness each year.
In fact, that figure may be low because experts believe that only about 1 in 20 cases gets reported. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that foodborne illnesses cost $15.6 billion each year.
List of Food Borne Diseases
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While most symptoms will go away on their own, understanding food safety will help you and your family to stay healthy and avoid any long-term complications. Try these tips for preventing and treating food poisoning.
Preventing Food Borne Illnesses
1. Wash your Hands
Clean your hands before handling food. Use hot water and lather up with soap. Further, not drying your hands thoroughly after washing them could increase the spread of bacteria, and rubbing your hands whilst using a conventional electric hand dryer could be a contributing factor, according to research. Frequently people give up drying their hands and wipe them on their clothes instead, but hand-hygiene is a key part of infection control and drying hands after washing is a very important part of the process.
2. Wash Fresh Produce
Protozoa found on lettuce and spinach may sequester harmful food-borne pathogens ultimately contributing to their survival on produce surfaces, according to researchers from Tennessee Technological University, Cookeville and the Produce Safety and Microbiology Research Unit, Albany, California.
Protozoa are single-celled organisms whose main function is bacterial consumption. They are commonly found in the natural microflora of plants and several species of amoebae have been associated with fresh salad vegetables. The occurrence of multiple outbreaks has encouraged researchers to further examine the interaction between food-borne pathogens and protozoa.
3. Stop Cross-contamination
Cross-contamination is when juices from uncooked foods come in contact with safely cooked foods, or with other raw foods that don’t need to be cooked, like fruits and vegetables. The juices from some raw foods, like meats and seafood, can contain harmful bacteria that could make you and your family sick.
Use different cutting boards for meat and vegetables. When shopping, bag raw foods separately. Always use a clean cutting board, and replace cutting boards that have become excessively worn.
4. Cook Foods Thoroughly
Browse online or pick up a book that will teach you the correct temperature for cooking hamburgers or scallops. Learn how to use a meat thermometer.
5. Store Foods Safely
Consult reliable sources like government agencies and universities to find out how long you can hang onto various leftovers. When in doubt, toss them out.
Set your freezer to 0 degrees Fahrenheit and your refrigerator to 40 degrees or lower. Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers, on plates or in sealed plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping onto other foods.
6. Defrost Carefully
Thawing food overnight in the refrigerator is usually the safest option. Leaving it out on the kitchen counter may seem faster, but you’re likely to wind up with bacteria.
7. Spot High-risk Items
Most foods are okay as long as they’re handled correctly. On the other hand, extra precautions may be desirable for individuals who are at higher risk such as small children or the elderly. Some items that require extra care include raw and undercooked meat and fish, as well as soft cheese.
8. Consider Canning
Home canning may sound appealing if you want to save money, and limit your exposure to BPA. Just be sure to research proper procedures first so you avoid contamination.
9. Support Meaningful Regulations
While there are many steps you can take at home, the food industry has a role to play too. Stay updated on legislation that affects food supplies.
10. Stay Updated on Food Recalls
This page lists notices of recalls and alerts from both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (http://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/recent/index.html)
Treating Food Borne Illnesses
1. Identify the Cause
Different kinds of foodborne illness require different treatments. Contamination can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other factors. If the cause is not apparent to you, consult a physician. Testing may be necessary to determine the origin of the illness.
2. Seek Urgent Care If…
While you can usually recover on your own, some cases require prompt attention. Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you have severe abdominal pain or become sick after eating mushrooms or canned products.
3. Replace Lost Fluids
Diarrhea is the most common symptom of food poisoning. Home remedies like drinking lots of water are usually adequate. Call your doctor if your diarrhea is severe or lasts more than 2 days.
4. Eat Light
Stop eating for a few hours if you’re feeling queasy. Then, start with bland foods like rice and bananas until you’re back on track.
5. Rest Up
Good quality sleep and relaxation will help your body to heal. Avoid vigorous activity for a while and take an extra nap. Cut out potential irritants like alcohol and tobacco.
6. Follow Your Doctor’s Recommendations
Some cases of food poisoning require antibiotics or other treatments. Your doctor can answer any questions about your individual condition.
Most food poisoning is mild, but why risk a trip to the emergency room? Sensible food safety practices enable you to eat a nutritious diet while protecting yourself from foodborne illness.
Image: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health