When you eat foods that are contaminated with bacteria or their toxins or pathogens like parasites and viruses, you often develop a foodborne illness. You may just have an upset stomach or it may be more serious and you could suffer with diarrhea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and dehydration. Most foodborne illnesses go undiagnosed and reported but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that, in the United States, 76 million people per year suffer from a foodborne illness of these people, about 5, 000 die. So, what are the causes of foodborne illness?
• Raw and undercooked meat and poultry
• Raw (unpasteurized milk and dairy products such as soft cheeses
• Raw or undercooked eggs
• Raw or undercooked shellfish
• Improperly canned goods, and smoked or salted fish
• Fresh or minimally processed produce
Foods from Animals
Raw foods that are of animal origin are the most likely to be contaminated. There are many foods that may have products from many different animals which poses a threat as if one single animal has a pathogen present, a whole batch may become contaminated. Foods that are at particular risk for this are bulk raw milk, pooled raw eggs, and ground beef.
A hamburger may have meat from several different animals and an omelet may have eggs from several chickens. A glass of raw milk may have come from hundreds of cows. Broiler chickens are also easily contaminated as the carcass can be exposed to drippings and juices from thousands of other birds that went through the same cold-water tank after slaughter. Shellfish are also high on the list because filter-feeding shellfish strain microbes from the sea so if there are pathogens in the seawater, the shellfish can become contaminated.
Fruits and Vegetables
Unfortunately, eating raw fruits and vegetables is also cause for concern. Contamination can be decreased with proper washing but it will not eliminate it completely.
If fruits and vegetables are processed in unsanitary conditions, there can be an outbreak of foodborne illness. Using quality water to wash produce once it has been harvested is very important. If unclean water is used, many boxes of produce can become contaminated.
Often times, fresh manure is used to fertilize vegetables but that can contaminate them. Raw sprouts are at a high risk because the conditions needed to sprout them are also perfect conditions for growing microbes. Because the sprouts are eaten without further cooking, it is easy to get a foodborne illness from them. If there is bacteria on the seeds they can grow to high numbers of pathogens which will cause foodborne illness.
There can also be pathogens on fresh fruit so unpasteurized juice is also at risk of being contaminated.
Foodborne illness can also be caused by cooking or storing foods at improper temperatures. If you have leftovers when you are finished a meal refrigerate the foods promptly. If it is left at room temperature for too long it may not be safe to consume. When you put the leftovers away, divide it up into small, shallow containers so it will cool more quickly in the refrigerator.
Make sure you cook all foods to the appropriate temperature. This will ensure that any harmful bacteria that may cause illness is eradicated.
Make sure that you keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot and if you are reheating food, make sure you heat it all the way through.
You should defrost food in the refrigerator when possible; never on the kitchen counter. If you need the food more quickly defrost it under cold running water or in the microwave.
Also, remember not to pack the refrigerator too full. There has to be room for air to circulate around the food.
If you believe you are susceptible to or have questions regarding the causes of foodborne illness and would like more information about preventing or treating it, contact the office of Siamak Tabib, M.D, where you can speak to professionals about your situation.