Although the United States’ food system has never been safer in the history of the country, cases of widespread food poisoning continue to surface. This is to be expected given our industrialized food manufacturing and distribution processes, but since our focus at our Jupiter concierge family practice is our patients, we would like to take the occasion of the two most recent outbreaks to review steps you can follow to minimize your risk.
The two most recent outbreaks occurred last month. One was the recall of 206 million eggs that possibly had been contaminated with salmonella. The second was the E. coli outbreak linked to consumption of romaine lettuce originating in the Yuma, Arizona area.
The egg recall in mid-April was based on reports that nearly two dozen people in nine states, including Florida, had been sickened by eating the suspected eggs.
And as recently as last week, people were still being sickened by eating romaine lettuce, while the salmonella outbreak seems to have been contained at this point. At least 98 people in 19 states have been affected by the E. coli outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Symptoms of E. coli bacterial infection include stomach pain or non-bloody diarrhea that worsens over several days. It can take up to 10 days to begin feeling symptoms after consuming affected food, which is why outbreaks are so difficult to track down.
Salmonella infections usually produce symptoms more quickly, usually within 12 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated product. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps.
Both these infections are normally self-limiting, meaning the body fights them off with no complications other than feeling fairly miserable for a few days. But both can also lead to more severe complications, especially for infants and children under five, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems.
Salmonella infection can require hospitalization if the infection spreads beyond the intestines into the bloodstream. The CDC says that, of the approximately 1.2 million infections reported each year, 23,000 cases result in hospitalization, with about 450 deaths in the U.S. each year.
E. coli infection can cause little or no symptoms, be more sever, or even require hospitalization. The CDC reports that various strains of E. coli causes an estimated 96,000 illnesses annually, requiring 3,200 hospitalizations, and resulting in 31 deaths each year.
Here’s what the CDC says you can do to keep you and your family safe from these thoroughly unpleasant bacterial infections.
- Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
- If you are served undercooked meat, poultry, or eggs in a restaurant, don’t hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
- Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
- Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom or changing diapers and before preparing or eating food. Wash your hands after contact with animals or their environments (at farms, petting zoos, fairs, even your own backyard).
- Cook meats thoroughly. Ground beef and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit/70 degrees Centigrade. It’s best to use a thermometer, as color is not a very reliable indicator of “doneness.”
- Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple cider).
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.
- Prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
As always, if you have any questions about these or any other health concerns, do not hesitate to contact us.