News & Events

Food borne illnesses can cause everything from diarrhea to death

June 8, 2011

The E.Coli strain sweeping through Europe, which has killed at least 22 people and sickened more than 1,800, has brought more attention than usual to food-borne illnesses, said Whitney Bundy, a registered dietitian and Director of the Backus Food and Nutrition Department.

Although the odds of coming in contact with such a rare strain are low, this is a good time of year to think about food-borne illnesses and how to prevent them. Each year, eating contaminated food causes 1 in 6 people in the U.S. to get sick, with 128,000 going to the hospital and 3,000 people dying.

There are two types of food borne illnesses.  One is a virus, which usually occurs by an employee with a virus (such as Hepatitis A or the Norovirus) handling food and transmitting it through food.  The second type of food borne illness is from bacteria, such as Listeria or Salmonella.

Preventing food borne illnesses is key to staying safe. Ms. Bundy offers these tips:

  • Always throw out products that are past their expiration date.  Those products that are consumed beyond that time have supported the growth of bacteria, likely past safe to eat levels.
  • Always cook your food to the appropriate internal temperatures.  Beef should be cooked to 155 degrees for at least 15 seconds, while chicken or any stuffed meats or fish needs to be cooked to 165 degrees for 15 seconds.  Fish that is not stuffed must be cooked to 145 degrees.  This ensures that bacteria can be killed during the cooking process.
  • Prevent cross-contamination.  When grilling your burgers this summer, don’t put your cooked burgers on the same plate that you carried your raw burgers out to the grill with.  If you’ve done this, you have just reintroduced your burgers to the same bacteria you thought you killed during the cooking process.
  • Wash your hands before preparing any food, even handling vegetables for kabobs or making salads.
  • Reheat your leftovers properly, and only reheat once.  Food should be reheated to the same recommended original cooking temperature.
  • Don’t leave your potato salad out in the sun very long during your summer picnic.  Increasing the temperature of foods that should be kept cold makes for a cozy environment for bacteria to grow.
  • Don’t use damaged cans.  Canned goods that have dents or are bulging may already be contaminated with bacteria.