Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

How Consumers Can Prevent Food Borne Illnesses

The most common pathogens that cause food borne illnesses can be eliminated from food with a few simple steps.

Salmonella Bacteria

Photo: AJC1 (Flickr)

The most common food borne infections are those caused by Campylobacter, E. coli, and (as seen here) salmonella.

As many as one in six people, or 48 million Americans, get sick each year from food borne illnesses. Treating those infected is an expensive endeavor as the U.S. spends some $152 billion annually to do so.

While consumers generally cannot control the quality of the food available for purchase, they can control how their food is prepared. According to the CDC, this is an important step in preventing infections.

Come Clean About Bacteria

During slaughter is the most common way meat and poultry become contaminated. For fruits and vegetables, it’s while being washed or irrigated with water that is contaminated with animal manure or human sewage.

According to the CDC, raw animal products such as raw meat and poultry, raw eggs, unpasteurized milk, and raw shellfish are the most likely to be contaminated. Fruits and vegetables consumed raw are also a particular concern as washing can decrease, but not eliminate, contamination.

Squeaky Clean

While it may seem difficult to find clean food, consumers are not completely powerless when it comes to harmful pathogens in their food.

In March, the CDC developed the “Be Food Safe” campaign. The four steps for preventing food borne illnesses are:

  • Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often.
  • Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate.
  • Cook: Cook to proper temperatures.
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly.

How Not To Be A Statistic

Here are some additional steps to keep in mind to lower your risk of contracting a food borne illness:

  1. Don’t leave foods that need to be refrigerated sitting out for a long time. Make sure to chill it right away.
  2. Buy a meat thermometer. It will help to make sure your food is cooked all the way through.  Also remember to wash the thermometer’s probe after each use with hot,  soapy water.
  3. Before handling raw meats, fruits and vegetables always remember to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and hot water.
  4. Before and after cooking the raw food, wash utensils and surfaces.
  5. When defrosting food, don’t use the kitchen counter. Instead put food in the refrigerator, soak it in cold running water, or nuke it in the microwave.
  6. While you are marinating food, store it in the fridge.
  7. Don’t pack too much in your refrigerator as it will raise the internal temperature.
  8. If your hands have any cuts or infections, use disposable gloves when handling food.
  9. Always remember to keep your cutting boards disinfected by simply washing them in hot, soapy water after each use. For a little extra sanitation,  plastic cutting boards can be disinfected with mixture of 1 tablespoon of  bleach per gallon of water.

What precautions do you take to make sure your food is safe to eat?

Read More:

  • Food Borne Illness (CDC)
  • 8 Tips to Prevent Food Borne Illness (ABC News)
  • Safe Food Handling (CDC)
  • Report: Food-Borne Illnesses Cost U.S. $152 Billion Annually (Earth Eats)
Katie Dawson

Katie Dawson is a sophomore at IU majoring in journalism and Spanish. Currently she lives in Bloomington, IN but is originally from Indianapolis. She enjoys cooking, eating and sometimes exercising.

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