by Heather Cornell
My family and I consume meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, and fruits each day that are sold at grocery stores and prepared at restaurants. I sometimes worry if the foods we are consuming will cause harm to our health or even hospitalize us. I worry because these foods are distributed all over the country and then handled in retailers’ hands to make sure foods are still safe to eat. Proper food safety and handling are often ignored by people every day. A few years ago, I was hospitalized after eating undercooked chicken at a restaurant. At the time, I did not realize that I possibly had a foodborne illness. The symptoms that lead me to go to the hospital were severe stomach pain, diarrhea, and later a fever. I was sick for several days before seeking medical attention. When I was seen at the hospital, I had to give a stool sample. At first, the nurse assumed I had C-Diff and put me in an isolated hospital room. The physician decided to admit me due to the severity of pain, fever, and to hydrate me with IV fluids. Days later, I received the results from the stool sample, and it determined I had Salmonella. Foodborne illness is caused by the contamination of foods and beverages that contain several foodborne germs that make food and beverages contaminated. Food contamination can occur at any point along the food supply chain. Contamination can happen at production by fields being sprayed with contaminated water or even if a hen’s reproductive organs are infected, the egg’s yolk can be contaminated before its laid. Contamination in processing can be from contaminated water used to chill or ice products or during the slaughter process or storage process. Food could also get contaminated in the distribution phase by improper temperatures when leaving food sitting on a loading dock for a long time in hot weather. Lastly, food could get contaminated in the preparation stage. For example, if someone who is preparing food is not washing their hands after using the restroom, they could spread germs by touching food. Food could also get contaminated if you are using a knife to cut raw chicken and then using that same unwashed knife to chop vegetables, the vegetables can be contaminated by germs from the chicken.
Each year, 1 in 6 Americans get sick from contaminated food or beverages. The CDC also estimates that 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne illness. (4) The CDC estimates Salmonella bacteria cause about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year. (4) The reason why food safety is a big concern, is because everyone consumes food and beverages. All people young, old or have weakened immune systems can develop severe life-threatening symptoms from foodborne diseases. Some of the symptoms associated with contracting Salmonella can be serious or mild. These symptoms usually are upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Treatments for Salmonella are usually nothing but depending on the severity of symptoms an antibiotic is needed. More serious symptoms like fever, diarrhea, and vomiting can intensify the illness and can result in hospital care. Consuming food and beverages that contain this harmful bacterium is increasing all over the world. Food safety is a big focus in public health because of the high number of illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. Clean, separate, cook and chill are four simple steps to decrease the number of foodborne illnesses.
In the past, food safety in the U.S. has been a real concern due to production, distribution, and handling. In 2011, President Obama implemented the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010. In over 70 years, this ACT is the first major modernize of the nation’s food safety system. The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) ensures the safety of our food supply and aims to ensure that contamination of the food supply is prevented. Another important agency that plays a vital role in carrying out food safety is the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA is responsible for developing and executing federal laws that have to do with commercial farming and livestock production.
To help and understand the importance of foodborne illnesses, I encourage you to get on the CDC’s website and search for foodborne illnesses. From the Food Safety Home Page, you can access more information about preventing food poisoning, symptoms, food safety tips, and treatment. For minimizing your risk for Salmonella, wash your hands, keep food preparation clean, cook and store your food at appropriate temperatures and be careful when handling animals. While shopping at the grocery store for food, pay attention to make sure the food environment is clean and that the temperatures are right for meat products, dairy, and eggs. Lastly, for restaurants and fast-food places, I encourage you to check the health department’s website frequently to see inspection scores.