Preventing Foodborne Disease

by Leila Serino on February 20, 2014


Foodborne diseases are illnesses acquired from eating contaminated food or beverages. Diseases include foodborne intoxication and infections, known to the public as food poisoning. The CDC estimates that in the United States 48 million people contract foodborne illnesses per year resulting in 3,000 deaths overwhelming costs. While there are many different variations of foodborne illness, the vast majorities are caused by microbial pathogens. The most common symptoms of bacterial food poisoning include diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, dehydration, and sometimes fever and chills. Symptoms usually arise 1-24 hours after eating food that has been contaminated. The most common bacterial foodborne infections are from strands of salmonella and E.coli.

Luckily, there are many steps we can take to prevent contracting foodborne disease and stop it from spreading to others as well. These safety precautions must occur at all levels from production, transport, process, preparation, and serving of all foods. The first thing to note is the U.S. Public Health Service’s list of potentially hazardous foods. These are foods that are good hosts for growing microbes. Most of these are high protein animal foods such as poultry, meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs. Recently, fresh produce has also been added to the list. This includes lettuce and spinach.

Cross-contamination is a process that transfers bacteria from one infected source to another. An example of this would be cutting contaminated chicken and using the same knife to cut lettuce. This spreads the bacteria to the lettuce without the two foods directly touching. To avoid cross-contamination, it is very important to consistently clean and sanitize all equipment used when handling potentially hazardous foods. It is also important to practice frequent hand washing. Research shows that hand washing is the most effective way to stop infection from spreading. Employees should wash their hands before handling food especially after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing, smoking, eating, or drinking. Supervisors are required to ban sick employees from handling food and from the establishment until they return back to being healthy. Cleanliness and sanitation of facilities are also very important. This includes practicing proper food storage, good dishwashing, proper waste disposal, and trash storage.

Another way to prevent food borne illness is using time-temperature control. There are certain environments and pH levels that bacterial growth thrive on and increase population rapidly. The temperature range referred to as the Danger Zone is between 41-140°F. This range of temperatures creates an environment in which bacteria can multiply most rapidly. Temperatures above 140°F will kill most bacteria. Temperatures below 41°F will slow down the growth of bacteria. That is why storing foods in the refrigerator is the most effective way to stop bacteria from growing.

Here are 6 myths that have been cleared up about food safety by Liz Szabo at USA Today:

1)   Color is not a reliable indicator of whether food is cooked enough

2)   Vegetables and cooked food can also be cross-contaminated

3)   You can still get foodborne illnesses from organic or local veggies

4)   A restaurant’s inspection report grade is not related to the likelihood of an outbreak

5)   Some bacteria can still survive subzero temperatures even if it does slow down the growth

6)   Fresh produce is linked to almost half of all foodborne illness cases – higher than any other type of food

Foodborne disease may seem frightening to many people, but it is important to remember that there are ways to prevent it. Efficient sanitation and consistent hand washing is a very important way to reduce infection. Avoid cross-contamination between food sources, especially raw meat. And be sure to keep foods out of the Danger Zone. Following these simple steps when handling food can greatly reduce your risk of contracting and spreading a foodborne disease.



Nadakavukaren, A. (2011). Food Quality. In (7), Our Global Environment (215-242). Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nekou Nowrouzi March 6, 2014 at 11:11 am

This post rocks!!! Learned so much about foodborne disease that I wouldn’t have known otherwise! Awesome stuff.


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