Dangers and Prevention of Foodborne Illness

by Nicole Saad on February 20, 2014

Foodborne illness has become a common and prevalent issue in the United States. Foodborne illness is any illness caused by the consumption of contaminated food or water by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites. There are 48 million cases annually, which is equal to 1 in 6 people each year. Of these foodborne illnesses, 128,000 have been hospitalized and there have been 3,000 deaths. Why are there so many cases in the United States? How can we reduce the risk for foodborne illness?

We need to be sure that we are educated and cautious about the causes of foodborne illness. Inadequate hand washing, cross contamination, storage and cooking temperature, and contamination of food by animal waste are all preventable factors that contribute to the causes of foodborne illness. If we do not wash our hands before handling food, there is a greater chance of transferring pathogens from individuals to the food. Sometimes food can even become contaminated by traces of fecal matter on human hands.

Cross contamination is very common in the kitchen at home. Food, kitchen tools, and kitchen surfaces can be contaminated and spread if used again. For example if cooked meat comes in contact with a knife that has been used to cut raw meat, the cooked meat then becomes contaminated. We must be cautious with what tools we use with certain foods in the kitchen. Appropriate temperature for cooking and storage of food is important to prevent foodborne illness. Refrigeration and freezing often prevent bacteria from growing. Contamination of animal waste can also be hazardous to food. Meat and poultry can be contaminated during slaughter even by the small amounts of intestinal contents from the animal. Fruits and vegetables can be at risk for bacteria and viruses if washed with water that has been contaminated by animal manure or human sewage. If we are aware of the risks of contracting foodborne illness, we can find ways to prevent this common issue just starting in our own kitchens at home.

fightbac The Food Safety Modernization Act was issued in 2010 by the government to reduce the amount of cases of foodborne illness in the United States. The government found an increasing number of incidences involving eggs, peanut butter, and spinach that were making thousands ill. The Act requires that manufactures of processed foods to implement plans to reduce the risk of food contamination among their products. Another requirement applies to the harvesting and production of produce. This aspect of the law focuses on the “W’s,” workers, waste, wildlife, and water, to fight bacterial contamination. In order to pass, the government has over fifty regulations to check, but the businesses would face new costs to prevent contamination. The manufacturers of the food must customize separate standards for irrigation water for the soil and water specifically used for the fruits and vegetables. The Food Safety Modernization Act also requires that the manufacturers add restrooms surrounding the farms, so that workers do not urinate in the fields. There must be signs to remind all of the workers to constantly wash their hands to prevent illness.

Although it may be difficult to completely get rid of foodborne illness, it is important that we find ways to reduce contamination of food, whether it is in the manufacturing businesses or in our own kitchens. Avoiding cross contamination, extremes of temperature, and adequate hand washing are all factors that can prevent foodborne illness. Hopefully, there will be a decrease in the overall foodborne illness prevalence moving forward.





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