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Food Education Safety Awareness Month - September

Food Education Safety Month

September is National Food Safety Education Month. It provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the steps you can take to prevent food poisoning. 

Did you know that every year, an estimated 1 in 6 Americans - or 48 million people - get sick, 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food? Some people are at a greater risk for a foodborne illness - also known as food poisoning, or to get seriously ill. 

Learn below the information about which groups of people are more likely to get food poisoning, symptoms of food poisoning, and what steps they or their caregivers can take to help prevent it. Also, we will discuss when to see a doctor and how to report food poisoning. 

What Causes Food Poisoning?

There are many different disease causing germs that can contaminate foods, so there are many different types of foodborne infections. Researchers have identified more than 250 foodborne diseases. Most of them are actually infections, caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Harmful toxins and chemicals also can contaminate foods and cause foodborne illness, as well.

The five top germs that cause illnesses from food eaten in the United States are:

  • Norovirus
  • Salmonella
  • Clostridium Perfringens
  • Campylobacter
  • Staphylococcus Aureus (Staph)

Some other germs don't cause as many illnesses, but when they do, the illnesses are more likely to lead to hospitalization. Those germs include:

  • Clostridium Botulinum
  • Listeria
  • Escherichia Coli (E. Coli)
  • Vibrio

Keep in mind that these are not all of the types of foodborne illness, but these are the most common.

Common symptoms of foodborne diseases are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea. However, symptoms may vary slightly among the different types of foodborne illnesses. Symptoms can sometimes be severe, and some foodborne illnesses can even be life-threatening. After you consume a contaminated food or drink, it may take hours or days before you develop symptoms.

Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, there are some groups who are more likely to develop one. Those groups include:

  • Pregnant Women
  • Young Children
  • Elderly Adults
  • People with immune systems that are weakened from medical conditions, such as diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, organ transplants, HIV/AIDS, or from receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

The good news is that most people with a foodborne illness recover without medical treatment, but people with severe symptoms should see their doctor. If you experience symptoms of food poisoning, such as diarrhea or vomiting, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.

See your doctor or healthcare provider if you have severe symptoms that include:

  • High fever: where the temperature is over 100.4 degrees, measured orally.
  • Frequent vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down, which can lead to dehydration.
  • Signs of dehydration: including a marked decrease in urination, a very dry mouth and throat, excessive thirst, dizziness, and lightheadedness.
  • Diarrhea for more than three days
  • Bloody vomit or stools
  • Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping

Preventing & Treating Food Poisoning

Types of food poisoning can be as varied as the foods we eat. Different forms of bacteria can affect different foods, and thrive under different conditions. It's helpful to familiarize yourself with all of these, but to sharpen up your grill skills here are some preparation tips to help protect you from food poisoning regardless of the contaminant responsible:

Clean and disinfect: Wash hands in warm, soapy water before preparing food. Thoroughly wash and disinfect all surfaces and objects in your kitchen, including cutting boards, utensils, and countertops.

Avoid cross-contamination: Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, and prepare different raw foods on different plates and cutting boards. Utilize gloves when preparing different raw foods.

Cook at proper temperatures: Learn the best temperatures to cook different foods at in order to kill germs, and use food thermometers to ensure correct temperature.

Refrigerate: Maintain a refrigerator temperature below 40°F and refrigerate perishable foods promptly. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, microwave, or in cold water; bacteria flourishes on foods thawed on the counter.

Regardless of the severity of food poisoning symptoms, dehydration is always a concern. Aside from worsening other symptoms of food poisoning, unchecked dehydration is potentially dangerous to even a typically healthy person.

When a person loses too much water, especially through symptoms of illness, they also may lose electrolytes and salts that the body needs to maintain balance. Mild to moderate cases of dehydration can typically be treated at home, but more serious cases will often require a doctor and treatment using intravenous (IV) solutions. All signs of dehydration during a bout of food poisoning, should be watched closely, especially in children and infants. Aside from water, oral rehydration fluids are a great way to prevent dehydration from becoming severe. The symptoms of food poisoning, such as diarrhea and nausea leading to vomiting, that can cause or worsen dehydration can also be treated.

Foodborne illnesses aren't uncommon, and though uncomfortable, can typically be treated without a visit to the doctor. However, the risk of serious illness or dehydration is always present, especially in vulnerable groups like children and the elderly. Whether on the job or in the kitchen at home, care should always be taken when preparing meals or handling food for any purpose in order to keep it free from dangerous viruses and bacteria.

Preventing food poisoning doesn't stop at home -- if you or a loved one is suffering from a foodborne illness, you should call your city or county health department to make a report. This information may help identify a source of food poisoning before many others are affected.

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