With Outbreaks on the Rise, How Safe is the Food You Eat? Absolute health

With Outbreaks on the Rise, How Safe is the Food You Eat?    Absolute health

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With Outbreaks on the Rise, How Safe is the Food You Eat?

By Health Coach ⋅ September 19, 2012 ⋅ Post a comment

Filed Under food and drink, food poisoning, healthy eating

Living in the U.S., we rarely have to worry about the safety of the food we eat. However, as the salmonella and listeria outbreaks linked to cantaloupe sold throughout the Midwest and east coast earlier this summer proved, potentially harmful mistakes do occur. Even if rare, people still need to take all necessary precautions to safely handle their food in order to limit their risk of exposure to a foodborne disease. Of course knowing more about those diseases can go a long way towards helping people protect themselves and their families from exposure. Here are some of the more common types of foodborne bacteria.

While the listeria outbreak earlier this year linked to contaminated cantaloupe was certainly cause for concern, it proved to be far less deadly than a similar outbreak that occurred in 2011 when contaminated cantaloupe sold from a farm in Colorado was attributed to 30 deaths and 146 cases of poisoning, the worst foodborne illness outbreak in recorded U.S. history.

A bacterial infection that causes listeriosis, the symptoms of listeria can include vomiting, muscle aches, and fever. Even though the symptoms of the disease don’t sound much worse than a stomach flu, listeriosis kills one out of every five people infected.

The bacteria can easily contaminate fresh produce, and can remain on food long after harvesting. To protect against listeria, you should scrub and dry any raw produce you purchase prior to cutting or storing it in the refrigerator.

Listeria can also grow in dairy products made from raw, unpasteurized milk. Since listeria can live in cold temperatures, simply refrigerating food items won’t kill any hidden bacteria. To limit your exposure, make sure any dairy products you purchase are marked as pasteurized.

Finally, listeria can even make its way into processed food such as hot dogs and deli meat. While heat will kill the bacteria, it’s possible that contamination could occur after these types of food have been cooked, but prior to packaging. Make sure to cook any lunch meats or hot dogs to 165 degrees Fahrenheit before eating to kill any lingering bacteria.

Despite the common misconception that salmonella only effects poultry and eggs, the bacteria can taint any food. However, a strong connection does exist between the bacteria and poultry. In chickens, for example, salmonella can infect eggs prior to the formation of the shell, which means that even fresh, clean looking eggs can harbor the bacteria.

Symptoms for salmonella can include fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea that can last for 12 to 72 hours after the initial exposure. In some severe cases, illness from the bacteria can last up to a week.

To protect against salmonella, make sure you don’t eat raw or under cooked eggs, and always heat poultry to 165 degrees. When preparing poultry, keep any raw meat separate from other foods and take care to thoroughly wash you hands, utensils, and countertops after handling.

While poultry may rank as the most common way for a person to be exposed to salmonella, outbreaks can occur due to contaminated produce as well. In recent years, salmonella outbreaks have been linked to cantaloupes, papayas, greens, hot peppers, and tomatoes. Unlike listeria, salmonella cannot survive at colder temperatures, so make sure you thoroughly wash and refrigerate any produce you purchase.

Commonly shorted to E. coli, Escherichia coli is a bacterium that lives in the intestines of warm-blooded organisms. While many strains of E. coli are harmless, some serotypes can lead to serious food poisoning. Symptoms of E. coli can include vomiting, diarrhea, and intense abdominal cramping. In most cases the symptoms of exposure typically manifest several days after exposure and usually lasts for a week.

Because the bacteria lives in the intestines of cattle, ground beef is at an especially high risk of E. coli contamination. To limit your risk of exposure, make sure to cook ground beef to 160 degrees, and, as always, thoroughly wash anything that comes into contact with raw meat.

Fruits and vegetables can also become tainted with E. coli in cases where the water or fertilizers used to grow the food was contaminated. The highest risk of exposure comes from leafy greens, such as spinach, arugula, and lettuce. Take the time to separate and individually wash each leaf prior to preparing any greens to limit your exposure to the bacteria.

Timothy Lemke blogs about food safety issues for Dr. Dick Hikade, a dentist in Clackamas at Sunnyside Dentistry.

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