Food poisoning is the worst. Also known as food-borne illness, this exciting encounter with nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea starts just hours after consuming food contaminated with infectious organisms. We often associate food poisoning with gas station sushi or under-cooked chicken, but they aren't even the half of it.
"Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point during its processing or production," explains the Mayo Clinic. This means everything from how food is harvested to how it's shipped can affect contamination levels. Even organic or homecooked food can be a case of food poisoning waiting to happen.
The FDA recently released a list of six common sources of food poisoning using data collected during the most recent outbreaks of food-borne illness. Surprisingly, most contamination occurred long before food was prepared.
6 Surprising Sources of Food Poisoning
1. Salad Products – cyclosporiasis, an intestinal infection caused by the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, has so far caused more than 640 cases of foodborne illness, some which have been linked to imported salad mixes and some to imported cilantro. Most recently, packaged salads sold at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods were recalled for E. coli.
2. Cheeses – listeriosis, a bacterial infection, caused by Listeria monocytogenes, was linked to domestically produced products from a company in Wisconsin. The outbreak sickened six people, one of whom died and another suffered a miscarriage.
3. Pomegranate seeds -- Hepatitis A, a viral infection of the liver, was linked to the imported pomegranate seeds in an organic anti-oxidant fruit blend product. The outbreak made 162 people ill.
4. Tahini -- salmonellosis, a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella, was linked to imported tahini, a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds. The outbreak sickened 16 people, including one death.
5. Cucumbers -- salmonellosis was linked to imported cucumbers which sickened 84 people.
6. Frozen pizza, sandwiches and cheese novelties-- E. coli was linked to a variety of frozen pizza, sandwich and cheese products from a plant in Georgia which infected 35 people, two of whom developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.
How to Avoid Food Poisoning
The proposed Food Safety Modernization Act includes regulations that would require controls at key points in the farm-to-table food supply chain to help ensure food safety. Until then, follow these simple rules to minimize your risk of food poisoning:
1. Wash your hands and surfaces, like cutting boards and counters, after each contact with an ingredient (don't wash chicken, however).
2. Keep raw meats separate from other foods, even in the shopping cart. Once at home, meat and poultry should be kept in tightly-sealed containers on a shelf below all other foods in the refrigerator. Prepare them on a cutting board that is only ever used for meat.
3. Cook food to proper temperatures to kill bacteria. It's not a guarantee, but cooking most foods to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F should reduce your risk of food poisoning.
4. Never store foods at temperatures above 40 degrees F. This is the FDA's recommended temperature for chilled foods, because it slows the growth of bacteria.
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