Each year millions of Americans are sickened by contaminated foods and beverages. Most foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria and viruses, but some stem from poisons coming in contact with food.
Local health departments manage a number of programs to protect our communities from foodborne illnesses. Our staff inspects potential sources of infection that serve the public including restaurants, swimming pools and food vendors at community festivals.
Anyone may be susceptible to foodborne illness, but the young, elderly and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk.
There are many foodborne illnesses and many ways in which food can be contaminated. To help prevent these illnesses, drink only pasteurized milk and juices and follow these guidelines for food preparation and serving.
Cook meat, poultry and eggs to proper temperatures. Use a thermometer for accuracy. Note that some meats require a rest time in which the temperature remains constant or continues to rise, destroying harmful germs.
Thaw or marinate food in the refrigerator. Bacteria can multiply rapidly at room temperature. Do not thaw or marinate food on the counter or in the sink.
Avoid cross-contamination. Wash your hands, utensils and cutting boards after coming in contact with raw meat and poultry. Always place cooked foods on clean platters. Also keep meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods in the refrigerator and while you’re grocery shopping.
Wash produce thoroughly. The water used in the growth and treatment of fruits and vegetables may be contaminated. Be careful not to contaminate produce with unwashed hands, knives or other utensils.
Refrigerate leftovers promptly. Bacteria can grow in many foods within two hours unless you refrigerate them. And in the summer heat, cut that time to one hour.
Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands often, especially after touching raw food, eating, smoking or whenever they are dirty. If you are sick, do not prepare food for others and avoid food prep areas.
COMMON FOODBORNE ILLNESSES
Escherichia coli (E. coli) 0157:H7
E. coli is a type of bacteria that lives in intestines. Most E. coli is harmless, but some cause illness. The worst is 0157:H7. It can lead to kidney failure and death. A severe complication is hemolytic uremic syndrome, an infection that produces toxins that destroy red blood cells, causing kidney injury. Treatment can require intensive care, dialysis and transfusions.
Symptoms, including abdominal cramps and severe diarrhea that is often bloody and vomiting, usually start two to eight days after consuming contaminated food. The illness lasts five to 10 days.
Causes of E. coli infection include:
• Contaminated food, especially undercooked ground beef, unpasteurized (raw) milk and juice, soft cheeses made from raw milk and raw fruits and vegetables such as sprouts
• Contaminated water (drinking or swimming)
• Animals and animal habitats, especially cows, sheep and goats
• Feces of infected people
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that is transmitted through contact with animal feces and food contaminated by animal feces. Most people get well without treatment but salmonella, typically lasting four to seven days, can cause serious illness in infants, the elderly and those with chronic diseases.
Symptoms, including diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting, may start 12 to 72 hours after consumption.
You can help prevent infection by following good food safety practices, but also take precautions with animals. Always wash your hands after touching animals, especially reptiles, amphibians and birds. Pet food and treats may also be sources of salmonella.
One of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States, campylobacter typically occurs in isolated incidents. It is caused by raw or undercooked poultry, unpasteurized milk and contaminated water.
Diarrhea, cramps, fever and vomiting can start in two to five days and last about a week.
Caused by a bacterium in soil, botulism is rare but serious, producing a toxin that affects the nerves.
• Home-canned foods with a low acid content such as asparagus, green beans, beets and corn
• Improperly canned commercial foods
• Baked potatoes wrapped in aluminum foil
• Additionally in infants, honey and corn syrup
Within 12 to 72 hours, double vision, blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth and muscle weakness may occur. The incubation period in infants, however, is three to 30 days and they may experience lethargy, weakness, poor feeding, constipation, poor head control or poor gag and sucking reflexes.
Botulism is a medical emergency. If left untreated, it can lead to paralysis.
Listeriosis is found in soil and water and is usually associated with raw foods such as meats and vegetables and processed food tat become contaminated after processing such as soft cheeses and deli cold cuts.
It primarily affects pregnant women, newborns and adults with weakened immune systems. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches and sometimes nausea or diarrhea. Headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, or convulsions can occur if infection spreads to the nervous system. Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage or stillbirth, premature delivery or infection of a newborn.
In addition to following food preparation and storage guidelines, consume perishable and ready-to-eat foods as soon as possible. If you are in a high-risk group, heat hot dogs, cold cuts and other deli meats before you eat them.
Staphylococcal causes relatively common food poisoning through food that is not properly reheated or refrigerated, such as pastries, custards, salad dressings, sandwiches and sliced meats. It can originate from humans who are infected with staph entertoxin or contaminated milk or milk products. Symptoms can occur 30 minutes to eight hours and usually last a day or two. Symptoms include severe nausea, cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and, sometimes, subnormal temperatures and lowered blood pressure.