When you sit down to eat a meal, do you ever think about whether or not the food you’re about to eat could make you sick? It would seem you wouldn’t have to - after all, aren’t there measures in place to keep our food safe? There are, indeed, regulations to try to keep the food you eat from making you sick. However, a recent report reveals that instances of food borne illnesses have remained a constant in the U.S. since 2004. Simply put, our food isn’t getting any safer as time goes on. Let’s see what else the experts have to say . . .
When you sit down to eat a meal, do you ever think about whether or not the food you’re about to eat could make you sick? I remember thinking that way about liver when I was growing up and forced (yes, Mom – forced) to eat the nasty stuff. But I never really thought much about getting sick from foods I enjoyed. After all, aren’t there measures in place to keep our food safe?
There are, indeed, regulations to try to keep the food you eat from making you sick. But those regulations don’t always guarantee 100 percent sure-fire food safety. Take, for instance, the recent recall of cereal made by the Malt-O-Meal company. At last count people in 14 states had been affected by the salmonella that was found in the unsweetened puffed wheat and puffed rice cereals. Maybe you were even one of them! I hope not, but this instance does show how even common, everyday foods like cereal can contain toxic elements.
You might think that sanitary practices have steadily improved over the years . . . that would seem to make sense, at least to me! But in an April 10 report from Memorial Hermann, federal health officials state that reports of food borne illnesses have remained a constant in the United States since 2004.
Wow. That doesn’t make me feel very safe! Shouldn’t we be learning from our past mistakes?
Apparently not. According to Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of CDC's Division of Food Borne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases, "Food safety is a continuing problem that starts at the farm and continues through the food chain all the way to the kitchen.”
Terrific. Feeling a little less safe all the time.
Let’s see what else the experts have to say . . .
Food Poisoning Facts
Food borne illnesses are also known as food poisoning. They can be caused by a variety of microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. The harmful toxins or chemicals that are present in food could also cause foodborne illness.
The symptoms will vary depending on the type of food borne illness that has been diagnosed. However, there are common symptoms that include abdominal cramping, diarrhea (which could be bloody), nausea, vomiting, fever, headache, fatigue and body aches.
Food borne illnesses do not usually occur directly after the food has been eaten. There is usually an incubation period that can range from less than an hour, which is rare, to days or even weeks. It depends on the organism that causes the illness and how much has been ingested. Therefore, the last foods that have been eaten are not always the source of the illness.
Given that rates of food borne infection haven't changed significantly in the past three years, more needs to be done to improve food safety, Tauxe said "We have to be vigilant about hygiene practices and prevention all along the way to reduce the risk of food borne infection," he said.
According to Tauxe, "If we compare 2007 with the previous three years, we are not seeing significant changes in the incidence of these pathogens.”
Tauxe also notes that in 2007 there were large salmonella poisoning breakouts that were linked to peanut butter and frozen pot pies.
According to Tauxe and Memorial Hermann, E. coli infections actually reached a low in 2003 and 2004, but in 2005 and 2006, these numbers increased again.
There were 14.92 diagnosed infections for every 100,000 Americans of E. coli in 2006. This was slightly lower from 2004 and 2005, but not a very huge change.
Statistics from 2006 and 2007 show that infections from campylobacter, listeria, shigella, vibrio, and yersinia did not have a significant drop.
Tauxe said, "2006, of course, was the year of large outbreaks related to spinach and shredded lettuce, and 2007 was marked by a number of ground beef recalls."
The findings of the above are from the CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network – FoodNet. FoodNet monitors food borne diseases in ten states. These findings were reported in the April 11 issue of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Preventing food borne illnesses is your best defense. The most effective things you can do to help prevent the spread of food borne illness is to wash your hands, avoid touching ready to eat foods with your bare hands and do not prepare or handle food when you are ill. Keep hot foods hot, cold foods cold and avoid cross contamination.
Unfortunately it’s apparent that you can’t take food safety for granted, even as we move forward in the 21st Century. While you can’t always prevent food poisoning from happening, you can do your best to avoid it by being vigilant and also being aware of any food recalls or safety warnings.