The phrase foodborne illness, many times called food poisoning, refers to disease emerging from an infection or an actual toxin in the food that we eat or drink.
More than 200 specific types of foodborne illness have been defined. Do not mistake this as a food allergy or intolerance, in which someone reacts to a component of a food that otherwise, is endured by the majority of everyone else. Infectious organisms cause the broad majority of foodborne illnesses and because they commonly do most of their filthy work in the gastrointestinal tract (GI), it is common for them to cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea—sometimes to a frightening or even life-threatening degree.
Many of us have heard of the severe diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever that destroys many parts of the planet, mainly after a calamity such as flood or earthquake. We are fortunate to have widespread guidelines of sanitation, waste disposal, and food preparation that grant us to eat just about everywhere—at restaurants or at your own kitchen table—without being nervous about coming up with major intestinal upset. Up until now, the center for disease control (CDC) projects that every year in the U.S there are some 70 million cases of foodborne illness, requiring 330,000 hospital admissions and causing around 6,000 deaths. It is impractical to know exactly how many actual cases of foodborne infections happen annually, because many consist of acute bouts of vomiting and diarrhea, and without the disease being announced. As you may imagine, the most severe problems are likely to happen among the very young, the elderly, or those with low immunity.
The three basic ways that foods become infected are (1) incorrect preparation, (2) insufficient cooking, and (3) improper storage.
The foods most likely to become infected by sickening organisms (mainly bacteria) are perishables, mainly meat and other animal products, fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables. The majority of foodborne illness happens because
- Hands aren’t washed thoroughly
- Fresh produce aren’t washed thoroughly
- Meats aren’t cooked long enough
- Stored foods aren’t kept under the right conditions (temperature wise)
Decrease your risk of getting sick from foods and drinks
Here are some fundamentals of dos and don’ts to decrease your risk of getting sick from foods and drinks:
1. Before food preparations, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water- mainly if you will be working with meat products, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs. If you use the restroom, play with your pet, or change a baby’s pamper during the course of food preparation, make sure your hands are washed again. If you are sick with diarrhea or some other disease of the intestinal tract, play it safe and let someone else handle the food.
2. Make sure that your utensils, cutting board, and other surfaces are thoroughly washed with hot, soapy water after you have prepared food. This will forbid cross-contamination, where organisms from one food are expectantly transferred to another. Also, refrain from using wooden cutting boards for meat. Pores in the wood can store hazardous bacteria.
3. Raw meats, poultry, fish, and shellfish should be kept out of contact with other foods. This is another way to prohibit cross-contamination. Preferably, these different animal products should be bagged separately at the supermarket, kept in a secured bag or containers so that their juices don’t leak onto other foods or surfaces, prepared on different cutting boards, and placed on different plates.
4. Fresh raw produce should be washed under running water before consuming them—particularly those that are not going to be cooked. After they are washed out, do not store them back into the package or container from which they came in.
5. Make sure your animal products are cooked thoroughly. Being that contaminated food can smell and appear normal, experts suggest the use of a food thermometer to assist you measure what’s hot enough—140 degree to 180 degree Fahrenheit, depending on the food—and what’s not. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests the following internal temperatures to be reached in order to wipe out potentially harmful bacteria:
- Lamb, beef, veal: 145 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare (the rarest you should allow), 160 degrees Fahrenheit for medium, and 170 degrees Fahrenheit for well-done. Fresh pork: Should be the same as mentioned with the exception that it should not be eaten medium rare.
- Poultry: 180 degrees Fahrenheit for whole birds, legs, wings, and thighs; 170 degrees Fahrenheit for breasts.
- Ground meat: 160 degree Fahrenheit for ground beef, pork, veal, and lamb; 165 degrees Fahrenheit for ground poultry.
- Ham: 160 degrees Fahrenheit if fresh, 140 degrees Fahrenheit if previously cooked.
- Fish and shellfish: 145 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 15 seconds.
- Egg dishes: 160 degrees Fahrenheit (cooked until the egg is scrambled)
- Casseroles, stews, and leftovers: 165 degrees Fahrenheit
6. Perishables are not good to remain in room temperature.
- Refrigerate them or store them in the freezer within two hours of buying or preparing them. This includes the doggy bag that you bring home from an outing containing the food that you might consume the next day.
- Check the temperature in the fridge and make sure that it maintains a temperature of less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer less than 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Beef, veal, lamb, or pork should be kept frozen if you are not going to consume them for three to five days. Ground meat, fish, shellfish, and poultry belong in the freezer if they are not going to be used within two days.
- Anything left in the fridge after four days should be tossed away.
- Never let prepared perishables lounge at room temperature for more than a couple of hours. If you’re having a gathering where food needs to be attainable for a longer period of time, keep the hot foods with a warming tray or a grazed dish and the cold foods on top of ice.
- Meat should be thawed in the microwave or refrigerator and not in your kitchen sink. If thawed at room temperature, the outer portions can welcome in bacteria long before the center portion of the meat is thawed.
- Meats should be marinated in the fridge and not at room temperature.
7. Think twice before you eat or serve any of the following food items:
- Raw, rare, or not fully cooked meat, poultry, fish, and shellfish
- Unpasteurized milk products or juices
- Alfalfa, clover, or radish sprouts
- Runny eggs or foods containing them
- Luncheon meats or hotdogs that are not fully cooked
8. Drinking water from stream and lakes is not suggested. Although they look crystal clear, they actually store parasites such as Giardia lamblia which can cause constant diarrhea.
9. When in doubt, throw it out!