Safe Food, Safe You

Safe Food, Safe You

Millions of Americans suffer through food poisoning each year. And with major recalls hitting the news, you may be hearing more about food-linked sickness.

Food poisoning, or foodborne diseases, includes any kind of illness brought on by eating contaminated food. Food-linked illnesses hit 1 in 6 Americans each year. It puts 128,000 people in the hospital and ends the lives of 3,000.

“Foodborne diseases represent a major health problem in the United States and may be increasing,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention leaving site icon (CDC). “But better testing and tracking means more are reported.”

There’s some debate about what’s behind the increase in cases of food poisoning. Is it that more people are sick? Or is it that the testing and reporting are getting better? Or both?

Whatever the reason, you can take care of your health by knowing what to do to keep your food safe.

What Causes Food Poisoning?

The most common causes of foodborne illnesses are bacteria and viruses. Other causes are parasites, molds, contaminants and allergens.

Salmonella leaving site icon bacteria alone cause about 1.35 million infections each year. You can check for current salmonella outbreaks leaving site icon on the CDC website.

If two or more people get the same sickness from the same contaminated food or drink, it’s called a foodborne illness outbreak. For example, illness from food served at a restaurant or at a large gathering. In those cases, the Food and Drug Administration leaving site icon may investigate and put out a warning. If you think your illness may be part of a larger outbreak, the USDA has suggestions for what to doleaving site icon

Symptoms

Food poisoning symptoms can be mild or severe, based on what caused the problem. Common symptoms are:

  • Upset stomach
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Fluid loss

If you’re sick, check with your doctor about what to do. Often you can treat food poisoning at home by replacing lost fluids. In some cases, over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medicines may help. In severe cases, medical care may be needed. Your doctor can help make sure you get the right treatment.

Who Is at Risk?

The people most at risk for serious health issues from food poisoning are:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than 5 years
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • People with long-term health problems
How Can You Prevent Food Poisoning?

Healthy eating means more than eating your vegetables. Safe food handling is an important part of keeping yourself and your family safe. That means you should store and prepare food in ways that help prevent sickness linked to food. The CDC says to watch how you do routine tasks.

Clean

  • Wash your hands and surfaces often — before, during and after making food. And always wash your hands before eating.
  • Wash your tools, cutting boards and countertops with hot, soapy water. And if you’re using them for different types of foods, wash them in between. For example, don’t use the same knife and cutting board for vegetables that you used for raw meat without washing them with hot water and soap first.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.

Separate

  • Keep foods that can be contaminated and other foods apart when shopping, storing or preparing food. Raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs can spread germs to fresh vegetables and other foods that are eaten raw or don’t need to be cooked at the same safe temperatures.

Cook

  • Make sure you’re cooking foods to the safe temperature. Different foods have different safe temperatures. Check this chart leaving site icon if you’re not sure what the minimum safe temperature is. It’s a good idea to use a food thermometer.

Chill

  • Chill food at once. Keep your refrigerator at 40° F or below.
  • Never leave food that can spoil out for more than two hours (or one hour if it’s hotter than 90° F outside).
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, not on the counter.

If you have questions, try the FoodKeeper App. leaving site icon It can show you how to store food safely. It also offers tips on how to use food at peak quality and cut waste.

Sources: Preliminary Incidence and Trends of Infections with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food — Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, 10 U.S. Sites, 2015–2018, leaving site icon Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2019; Salmonella, leaving site icon CDC, 2021; Four Steps to Food Safety, leaving site icon CDC, 2020; Reports of Active Salmonella Outbreak Investigations, leaving site icon CDC, 2021; Food Poisoning, leaving site icon FoodSafety.gov, 2020; Food Poisoning, leaving site icon National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; Foodborne Illness and Disease, leaving site icon USDA, 2020
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