By Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN
Foodborne illness – a disease, usually infectious or toxic in origin, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion or handling of food – affects an estimated 48 million Americans annually, hospitalizing approximately 128,000 people and causing about 3,000 deaths .
An event in which two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink  is considered an ‘outbreak,’ and when crossing state lines, it becomes a ‘multistate outbreak.’ These multistate outbreaks are not uncommon in the US, and already in 2018 nine major outbreaks have already been investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Recent sources include Kellogg’s Honey Smacks Cereal (salmonella), pre-cut melon (salmonella), shell eggs (salmonella), romaine lettuce (E. coli), and pre-made chicken salad (salmonella) [3-7]. These five outbreaks alone sickened a total of 663 individuals, resulting in 259 hospitalizations and six deaths.
Risk of food poisoning is increased in pregnant women, young children, older adults, and individuals with compromised immune systems . During the summer months, regular high temperatures, outdoor gatherings, and storm-related power outages are all factors that may promote bacteria growth on foods.
Common symptoms* of foodborne illness include:
· Diarrhea and/or vomiting, typically lasting 1 to 7 days
· Abdominal cramps, nausea, flatulence, bloating, indigestion, bloating, and appetite loss
· Chills or sweating, dehydration, and fever
· Joint or back aches, dizziness, fatigue, and lightheadedness
*Time between exposure and symptom onset can range from several hours to one week.
But no matter the time of the year, your age or life stage, foodborne illnesses can be prevented in most cases with proper food storage, handling and cooking procedures.
To help prevent development and spread of foodborne illness, here are a few simple tips :
· Before and after preparation and handling of foods, always wash your hands, cutting boards, countertops, utensils and cooking surfaces.
· Properly rinse or scrub fruit and vegetables under cool running water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten (e.g., citrus fruit, melons, pineapple, kiwi).
· Do not rinse meat or poultry – this may spread bacteria and increase illness risk.
· Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from other foods in your shopping cart or basket, grocery bags and refrigerator.
· To avoid cross-contamination, designate one cutting board for fruit and vegetables and a different one for raw meat, poultry and seafood; use separate clean utensils for both, and wash hands between related tasks.
· In the refrigerator, keep the temperature at 40°F or below, ensure foods are stored inside within two hours of cooking, and aim to keep leftovers no longer than 3-4 days.
· Never defrost foods at room temperature. Instead, safely defrost overnight in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.
· During cooking (and reheating), food is safe to eat when it reaches an internal temperature high enough to kill any potentially harmful bacteria that may cause foodborne illness.
· At outdoor gatherings, keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. (Specific guidelines here.)
· If you aren’t sure how long a food has been sitting out or has been kept in your refrigerator, and whether it is still safe or not, follow the rule: “When in doubt, throw it out.”
· If you are among the aforementioned high-risk populations, avoid these potentially hazardous foods.
Contracting a foodborne illness can be a possibility but it is not a foregone conclusion. Keep yourself, your family and your friends safe this summer and all year long by practicing smart food safety.
Your Meals are Tasty, But Cook with Safety, Family Food, LLC
Food Safety at the Grill, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
The Rules of Separation at the Grill, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Tailgating Food Safety, USDA
1. U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak. http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/multistate-outbreaks/index.html. Accessed 7 July 2018.
2. U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreaks. http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/multistate-outbreaks/index.html. Accessed 7 July 2018.
3. U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Mbandaka Linked to Kellogg’s Honey Smacks Cereal. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/mbandaka-06-18/index.html. Accessed 9 July 2018.
4. U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Adelaide Infections Linked to Pre-Cut Melon. https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/adelaide-06-18/index.html. Accessed 9 July 2018.
5. U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Braenderup Infections Linked to Rose Acre Farms Shell Eggs (Final Update). https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/braenderup-04-18/index.html. Accessed 7 July 2018.
6. U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 Infections Linked to Romaine Lettuce (Final Update). https://www.cdc.gov/ecoli/2018/o157h7-04-18/index.html. Accessed 9 July 2018.
7. U.S. Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium Linked to Chicken Salad (Final Update). https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/typhimurium-02-18/index.html. Accessed 9 July 2018.
8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food Safety: It’s Especially Important for At-Risk Groups. https://www.fda.gov/food/foodborneillnesscontaminants/peopleatrisk/ucm352830.htm. Accessed 10 July 2018.
9. FIGHT BAC!® Partnership for Food Safety Education. The Core Four Practices. http://www.fightbac.org/food-safety-basics/the-core-four-practices/. Accessed 10 July 2018.