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Foodborne Illness

Tips for prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are about 76 million foodborne illnesses in the United States each year, which costs Americans $35 billion dollars in medical costs and lost productivity. While death from food poisoning is rare, it pays to take proper precautions so you and your family members don't fall victim to pesky bacteria and viruses that can wreak havoc on your body.

Three of the most common types of foodborne illness are salmonella, E. coli, and calicivirus, or Norwalk-like virus. Salmonella is a bacterium that is spread by birds, reptiles and mammals. It can be spread to humans by a number of different foods that infected animals have come into contact with. Salmonella causes fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. It can also invade the bloodstream and cause life-threatening infections in people with weakened immune systems.

E. coli is another bacterium that is carried by cattle and similar animals. The illness is spread to humans when you drink water or eat food that has been contaminated with microscopic amounts of cow feces. The illness causes severe diarrhea and painful abdominal cramps. In few cases, E. coli can cause kidney failure.

Calicivirus or Norwalk-like virus is very common, but often can go undiagnosed. The virus is spread from one infected person to another, such as when an infected person contaminates food as it's being prepared. The virus causes vomiting and diarrhea and lasts a couple of days.

While all these foodborne illnesses are common, that are some simple things you can do to help keep yourself free from unwanted bacteria and viruses. One easy way to remember is by C-C-C, or Clean, Cook and Chill.

Clean

One of the easiest ways to avoid foodborne illnesses is to clean; wash everything from your hands to your produce. First, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water before preparing any food. Keep your kitchen area clean by using a disinfectant on counter tops and washing dishes thoroughly. Also, keep utensils and cutting boards clear from cross-contamination. Never use a cutting board or knife that has been used on raw meat or poultry to cut fresh fruits or vegetables that you plan to serve raw. Also, put cooked meat on a clean platter, not the same platter that held the raw meat. And always remember to wash all produce. Rinse fruits and vegetables in running water to remove visible dirt. When washing leafy vegetables such as lettuce or cabbage, remove the outermost leaves and toss them in the trash.

Cook

Be sure to cook all meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly. Use a thermometer if needed to make sure the internal temperature is where it needs to be to kill bacteria. Beef and pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, poultry to 165 degrees, and eggs should be cooked until the yolk is firm.

Chill

To avoid unwanted bacteria, refrigerate leftovers right away. Bacteria can grow at room temperature, so leftover foods should be but in the refrigerator if they are not going to be eaten within four hours. When purchasing food, be sure to look for produce that is free from mold, dark spots and punctured skins. Also, check the label make sure meat, poultry, eggs and dairy have an expiration date. Be sure to use or freeze foods on or before the expiration date.

Despite taking these precautions, there's a chance might still fall victim to food poisoning at some point. If you do, be sure to report it to your local health department. Often, the calls from those infected with a foodborne illness are how outbreaks are first detected. It will also help pinpoint the cause of the illness.

By Rachel Brougham

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