When Good Food Goes Bad: How To Prevent A Foodborne Illness

When produce like celery and cilantro are recalled due to Salmonella (read a full list here), and after one of the deadliest outbreaks of E. coli this year killing 19 people in Europe and sickening thousands; many of us have become increasingly concerned about what could be tainted next, and if it could directly impact our families. Although we normally associate both Salmonella and E. coli with undercooked beef and poultry, contaminated foods can include eggs, milk, herbs and produce. In fact, produce can become a hazard when they are fertilized with animal manure, and if the manure is contaminated with Salmonella or E-coli.  Yet, it’s irrational to avoid all foods that could pose a threat, especially when there are so many health benefits in each tasty fruit and vegetable we eat. Luckily, there are a few tips that can minimize the risk of a hazardous pathogen ending up on your plate.

Prevention In Your Garden: Colorado State University recommends building your own garden, allowing you more control over safe gardening practices. To reduce the propensity of foodborne illness; locate your garden away from animal pens or manure, and keep your pets and animals away from the garden during growing season.  Also, cover your bases by checking for a neighbor’s run-off that may have be exposed to manure.  When watering, try using drinking water or water from a deep well, as these sources are less likely to contain Salmonella and E.coli.  Also, it’s good practice to never apply manure directly to the edible parts of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Prevention In Your Kitchen:  Thoroughly washing hands and tools that may have been exposed to manure in your garden will prevent foodborne illness from being spread in your home.  While in the kitchen, washing your hands, cutting boards, utensils, fruits and vegetables in warm soapy water will also prevent sickness.  To further remove dirt, pesticides and bacteria, use a brush or peel the skin off of fruits and vegetables before eating them.  Although, contrary to what many assume, washing meat in your sink can actually splash more harmful bacteria in your kitchen. The Food Safety And Inspection Service recommends cooking poultry to at least 165 degrees F., and all beef, pork and lamb to 160 degrees F. to kill all known pathogens.  Also, store your leftovers at 40 degrees F. or below in the refrigerator, and 0 degrees in the freezer.

In The Case Of A Suspected Foodborne Illness:  If you suspect a food-related illness, first securely wrap up the potential food,-mark it “DANGER” and place it in the freezer. Saving the tainted food and any wrapping, cans and labels associated with it, can be useful in tracking the illness back to its source.  Also, seek treatment if you experience bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or a high temperature.  Call the Health Department if the food was served from a local restaurant, or the USDA Hotline (1-888-MPHotline) if the suspected food was packaged in the United States.

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