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Food Safety

Foodborne Illness-Gastroenteritis

What is a foodborne illness?

A foodborne illness is a disease that can be caused by a germ (virus or bacteria) or a chemical that contaminates the food you eat.

How does the food get contaminated (become unsafe)?

Food can be contaminated when a person who is preparing the food has not washed his/her hands. Fruit, vegetables, dairy products, meat and other food items can come into contact with soil, water, human/animal waste that contains illness-causing germs. Foodborne illness can be caused when food is not kept at the correct temperature and a germ in a food is allowed to multiply. Food can also become unsafe if a chemical (such as a cleaning product) is spilled into food.

What are the kinds of germs that make food unsafe?

The most common forms of foodborne illness are:

  • Salmonella
    a bacteria that is in many different foods, most often in raw chicken or other meat (protein sources). Symptoms of salmonella infection include diarrhea (the 'runs'), fever and stomach cramps.
  • Campylobacter
    a bacteria that is also in raw chicken. Symptoms of campylobacter include fever, headache, nauseas, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
  • E. coli
    a bacteria which may be spread by water or food that has been contaminated by animal or human waste (stool). There are many kinds of E. coli. Some kinds can case illness in humans. Symptoms of E. coli include severe diarrhea, sometimes even bloody diarrhea.
  • Shigella
    a bacteria that is spread from and infected person who prepares/touches the food of others.

How is foodborne illness spread?

All foodborne illness can be spread to other people, if the person who is ill does not wash his/her hands and then prepares food for others.

If you are ill with diarrhea you should not prepare food for others. And you should be especially careful with washing your hands often.

There are many other bacteria and viruses that cause foodborne illness if the person preparing the food is ill and does not wash his/her hands or if the food is not kept at the right temperature.

How are foodborne illnesses prevented?

The best way to help prevent you or your family from getting sick from foodborne illness is to:

  • Make sure that everyone uses good hand washing - that means always washing hands before preparing food and before eating food.
  • If you are preparing food or taking food to someone or to an event (picnic, party, potluck) you must make sure that food is prepared in a clean area, that you have washed your hands and that you use clean bowls/utensils.
  • Foods that are hot should be kept hot and not allowed to sit at room temperature for more than a few minutes
  • Foods that are cold must be kept cold, kept on ice and not at room temperature for more than a few minutes.
  • Do not allow the juices of uncooked meats to drip onto fresh fruits or vegetables.
  • Keep foods covered and control flies by the use of screens.

How do I know how to buy food that is safe?

  • Shop carefully. Look for a USDA inspection stamp on meats. This means the meat came from a healthy animal and was processed safely.
  • Buy fruits and vegetables in season and use within a few days as these foods spoil quickly. Do not buy these foods if they have decay, skin punctures or seem spoiled.
  • Do not buy canned goods if the can is bulging at the ends or on the sides as this may indicate that the food inside is spoiling. Also, do not buy dented or rusted cans. Canned goods may be kept safely for a year or more if stored properly (that means the storage area should not get very hot and that the can does not become damaged).
  • When buying frozen food make sure it is frozen solid, not mushy or partially thawed. When frozen foods are taken home make sure they go into the freezer immediately. If the power fails and the foods thaw do not eat them.
  • Be alert for signs of spoiling for fresh cooked foods and make sure that hot foods are kept hot and cold foods are kept cold. Foods containing eggs products such as mayonnaise and foods containing whipping cream, may spoil quickly when not kept at the right temperature.
  • Remember that when you buy food that health is your first concern. Be sure to buy good, fresh and safe food.

How can I be sure that food at homes is prepared safely?

Cleanliness is the best defense against germs.

  • Make sure that your hands and fingernails are clean and that skin breaks on your hands such as cuts are covered with a clean bandage.
  • Make sure that the counters are clean, that the bowls, pans cutting boards and the utensils you will use are clean before you begin to prepare your food.
  • Food that needs to be washed such as fruits and vegetable should be washed under clean running water.
  • If you need to leave the food preparation area for any reason, when you return you should wash your hands with soap and running water.
  • Make sure that cleaning supplies are kept away from food preparation areas.
  • If you are sick have another family member do the actual food preparation and you can supervise.
  • Store correctly and follow safety rules for refrigeration
  • Make sure that cleanliness is the "rule" in your kitchen.

More information about food safety