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Preventing Foodborne illnesses: A How-To Guide

Food is a basic necessity of life. You would take all preventive measures to make sure that what you consume is not contaminated. Right? Researchers have discovered ten pathogens that cause foodborne diseases. Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, E. coli are the most common viruses of those found in food.

The patient who contracts one of these viruses through food can be treated with antibiotics. However, in some types of microbial food poisoning, antibiotics can be ineffective. 

E. coli and Salmonella deserve special consideration because these pathogens are accountable for many of the most notorious foodborne disease outbreaks of the last two decades.

A foodborne disease is contracted through consumption of contaminated foods or drinks. The food we eat can be contaminated with disease-causing pathogens, and, as a result, by eating or drinking contaminated food, we expose ourselves to disease-causing microbes and germs.

Cross-infection, which refers to the transmission of viruses or bacteria through direct or indirect means, occurs during food preparation, eating, and drinking. A person carrying the harmful agent will transfer it through their hands or mouth when eating. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in every six Americans (48-million people) becomes ill every year due to foodborne diseases. About 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 people die from foodborne illnesses. 

Symptoms of foodborne illnesses include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Symptoms may vary depending on the disease, while some diseases can actually be life-threatening. 

Certain groups of people are more likely to get infected by foodborne diseases. These groups are infants, young children, the elderly, and pregnant women. Patients with suppressed immune systems (e.g., cancer patients, diabetics) are also highly at risk.

Public Health Planning can play a huge role in terms of safeguarding us from foodborne illnesses. You might ask, What is Public Health Planning? And what kind of role can it play in terms of reducing foodborne illnesses? 

Public Health Officials can devise strategies that will help people develop healthier, hygienic behaviors when handling food, prevent and combat disease-spreading germs and bacteria by incorporating antiseptic regimens in restaurants, enhance food safety protocols, and spread awareness about chronic disease management. 

There are several techniques to avoid foodborne infections or food poisoning. The safety measures mentioned below work well in conjunction to keep you healthy and safe.

  • Bacteria and viruses may spread throughout the kitchen, to the worktops, cutting boards, and cutlery by coming into contact with contaminated hands, foods, and surfaces. Therefore, it is essential to wash hands with a soap before organizing the food and using any utensil.  
  • If you cough, sneeze, touch your face, hair, or clothing when working with food, immediately wash your hands. All fruits and vegetables should be properly rinsed after they’ve been brought over from the grocers. Rinse them again under running water before putting them into the preparation of the meal. Hard vegetables, like cucumbers or carrots, should be scrubbed using a produce brush while wet. 
  • Spills should be mopped and cleaned up as soon as they occur, and every surface that comes into contact with food should be cleaned regularly. Clean the interior and exterior of appliances, giving specific attention to the knobs, handles, and buttons because these are surfaces which get a lot of hand contact, increasing the risk of cross-contamination.
  • While shopping, put raw meat, poultry, and shellfish into separate plastic bags. Place raw meat, poultry, and fish separately in the refrigerator as well. It will help avoid other food items from soaking with the meat as its moisture leaves it over time. 
  • Use a clean cutting board for vegetables and a separate one for cutting raw meat, poultry, or shellfish. Also, never use the same chopping board or dish for raw and cooked foods.
  • Cooking kills most disease-spreading germs in meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. Food items should be cooked well before they are consumed. 
  • Refrigerated things should be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while frozen foods should be kept below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Poultry, fish, and ground meat should be cooked or frozen within two days of purchasing them.
  • Frozen meals can be preserved in the freezer for up to three months. Microwaves can also safely defrost food. You may also defrost frozen food by placing it in a leak-proof bag and submerging it in cold water for 30 minutes. Make sure to change the water after every 30 minutes.
  • Check the expiration dates on all food items. The “sell by” date specifies how long the food can be kept on the shelf. The “use by” indicates a date beyond which the food item is no longer safe for consumption. 
  • Apart from the perishables, purchase frozen or refrigerated food. Never buy foods with broken or damaged packaging.
  • There are several health inspection websites that rate restaurants on basis of a number of criteria, including food hygiene. Many also have apps that can calculate a restaurant’s health score. When first showing up at a restaurant, observe whether the tables, flooring, and utensils are clean enough. 
  • Food that arrives raw or undercooked should be sent back. If you bring back leftovers, remember to store them in the refrigerator within two hours. Furthermore, if the leftovers aren’t consumed within three or four days, it’s best to just get rid of it.
  • Raw and undercooked food raise the chances of contracting a foodborne disease. Food poisoning bacteria, viruses, and parasites might not necessarily alter the appearance, taste, or smell of food. The best way to protect yourself, therefore, is to freeze or prepare fresh meals. 
  • Do not use the same dish towel for your hands and the counter. Bacteria on the towel might get on your hands or spread to the counter’s surface afterwards. The apron you wear for cooking can also become a bacteria colony if you repeatedly wipe hands on it when preparing meals. 
  • When defrosting items like raw beef or chicken inside the refrigerator, place them on a drip-collecting tray at the bottom shelf. Meat should not be stored in higher sections of the fridge, since moisture from the meat, containing blood, might drip onto and contaminate other foods below.

Conclusion

Anyone who has had food poisoning before will tell you, from bitter experience, that it’s not a pleasant feeling when you can’t stop yourself from vomiting or going to the toilet. Microorganisms can easily transmit from our hands onto our food. Proper hygienic practices when handling and eating food can prevent the onset of foodborne diseases. With the tips mentioned above, you can help yourself avoid contracting foodborne illnesses through contaminated foods. 

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