Preventing Foodborne Illness: Talking to Patients About Food Safety

Preventing Foodborne Illness: Talking to Patients About Food Safety


I JUST SAW A PATIENT WITH A SERIOUS CASE OF FOODBORNE ILLNESS, OR FOOD POISONING AS MOST PEOPLE CALL IT. FOODBORNE ILLNESS HAS A WIDE RANGE OF SYMPTOMS AND CAN GO FROM “SOMETHING I ATE DOESN’T AGREE WITH ME” TO BEING BAD ENOUGH TO CAUSE A SERIOUS HEALTH PROBLEM OR EVEN DEATH, AND MOST FOODBORNE ILLNESSES SYMPTOMS DON’T PRESENT RIGHT AWAY. IT OFTEN TAKES 24 TO 48 HOURS AFTER EATING THE CONTAMINATED FOOD, BUT IN SOME INSTANCES, THE INCUBATION PERIOD MAY BE LONGER. BASED ON WHAT THIS PATIENT TOLD ME, WE AREN’T SURE IF IT’S FROM A RESTAURANT OR FROM FOOD SHE PREPARED AT HOME. THAT’S WHY I MAKE SURE MY PATIENTS UNDERSTAND THAT EVERYONE HAS A ROLE TO PLAY IN ENSURING FOOD SAFETY– FARMERS, FOOD COMPANIES, TRANSPORTERS, RETAILERS, CONSUMERS, AND THE GOVERNMENT. IN FACT, THE FDA ISSUED REGULATIONS TO CARRY OUT THE FDA FOOD SAFETY MODERNIZATION ACT OF 2011. THIS WAS THE MOST SWEEPING REFORM OF FOOD SAFETY LAWS IN MORE THAN 70 YEARS. THE NEW RULES REQUIRE FOOD PRODUCERS TO DO MORE TO IDENTIFY AND PREVENT PROBLEMS BEFORE THEY MIGHT HAPPEN, AND THEY SET SCIENCE-BASED SAFETY STANDARDS FOR GROWING, HARVESTING, AND PACKING PRODUCE, BUT SOMETIMES CONTAMINATED FOOD STILL REACHES CONSUMERS, AND THE GOVERNMENT CAN’T REGULATE HOW CONSUMERS HANDLE FOOD. THAT’S WHY WE ALL NEED TO KNOW HOW TO MINIMIZE THE RISK, ESPECIALLY FOR OUR PATIENTS WHO ARE AT HIGHER RISK– PREGNANT WOMEN, YOUNG CHILDREN, OLDER ADULTS, AND PEOPLE WITH IMMUNE SYSTEMS WEAKENED BY ILLNESS OR MEDICAL TREATMENT. BEING SMART ABOUT HOW WE SHOP FOR FOOD CAN DO A LOT TO HELP PREVENT EXPOSURE TO THE TWO MOST COMMON FOODBORNE AGENTS– VIRUSES AND BACTERIA. WHEN IT COMES TO FOODBORNE ILLNESS, MOST OF US THINK OF UNDERCOOKED MEATS AND EGGS, BUT RAW FRUITS AND VEGETABLES CAN POSE A RISK. SO CAN LUNCH MEATS AND DELI-TYPE SALADS. THERE ARE A FEW THINGS YOU CAN DO WHILE AT THE GROCERY STORE. CHECK THE SELL-BY DATES. USE PLASTIC BAGS FOR RAW MEAT AND POULTRY AND KEEP THEM SEPARATED FROM THE OTHER GROCERIES IN YOUR CART AND ONLY BUY PASTEURIZED DAIRY PRODUCTS AND JUICE. FOOD RECALLS HAPPEN WHEN CONTAMINANTS ARE DISCOVERED IN FOOD PRODUCTS. THEY HAPPEN ALMOST EVERY DAY, AND THESE FOODS COULD BE ALMOST ANYTHING. THEY RANGE FROM FRESH PRODUCE TO PEANUT BUTTER TO MEAT AND POULTRY. IT’S IMPORTANT TO KNOW THAT THERE MAY BE NOTHING YOU, AS A CONSUMER, CAN DO TO MAKE THESE FOODS SAFE. THE BEST THING TO DO IF THEY ARE RECALLED IS JUST THROW THEM OUT. FOR A LIST OF CURRENT RECALLS, GO TO FOODSAFETY.GOV. KEEPING THE FAMILY SAFE IS A PRIORITY IN ANY HOUSEHOLD, SO HERE ARE 4 BASIC STEPS TO PREVENT FOODBORNE ILLNESS IN THE HOME. WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN WITH WARM OR COLD WATER AND SOAP FOR AT LEAST 20 SECONDS BEFORE AND AFTER HANDLING FOOD, USING THE BATHROOM, CHANGING DIAPERS, OR HANDLING PETS. CLEANING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES IS IMPORTANT IN ORDER TO GET RID OF SOIL THAT MAY REMAIN ON THE PRODUCE, BUT THERE ARE A VARIETY OF OTHER REASONS TO CLEAN. BACTERIA, VIRUSES, OR PARASITES CAN BE ON THAT PRODUCE, AS WELL, SO MAKE SURE TO RINSE ALL PRODUCE THOROUGHLY UNDER COLD WATER TO HELP REDUCE YOUR RISK AND USE A VEGETABLE BRUSH, ESPECIALLY ON FRUITS AND VEGETABLES THAT HAVE A SKIN OR RIND THAT WON’T BE EATEN. RINSE PRODUCE BEFORE YOU CUT IT BECAUSE IF THERE ARE BACTERIA, VIRUSES, OR OTHER DISEASE-CAUSING MICROORGANISMS ON THAT SKIN AND YOU CUT IT WITH A KNIFE, THAT KNIFE CAN CARRY THAT PATHOGEN RIGHT INTO THE FRUIT. CLEAN YOUR CUTTING BOARDS AND OTHER SURFACES BETWEEN PREPARING RAW MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD, OR EGGS AND PREPARING FOODS THAT WON’T BE COOKED, LIKE SALAD VEGGIES, SO YOU DON’T CONTAMINATE THE OTHER FOODS, OR USE SEPARATE CUTTING BOARDS. JUST AS YOU SEPARATE YOUR RAW MEAT FROM OTHER GROCERIES IN YOUR SHOPPING CART TO AVOID CROSS-CONTAMINATION, DO THE SAME THING IN YOUR REFRIGERATOR. NEVER PUT RAW MEAT, POULTRY, SEAFOOD, OR FRESH EGGS ANYWHERE WHERE THEY MAY CONTAMINATE READY-TO-EAT FOOD. I’M GOING TO PUT THIS CHICKEN IN THE FRIDGE TO MARINATE FOR A COUPLE HOURS, AND I DON’T WANT IT TO BE ABOVE OR NEAR MY VEGGIES JUST IN CASE THE BAG LEAKS. SOME PEOPLE LIKE TO REUSE MARINADES FOR SAUCES AND GRAVIES, BUT NEVER REUSE MARINADES THAT WERE USED WITH RAW MEATS UNLESS YOU BRING THEM TO A BOIL FIRST SO THAT YOU KILL ANY PATHOGENS. FOOD IS SAFELY COOKED WHEN IT REACHES A HIGH ENOUGH INTERNAL TEMPERATURE TO KILL THE HARMFUL PATHOGENS THAT CAUSE ILLNESS. THERE ARE DIFFERENT SAFE TEMPERATURES FOR DIFFERENT FOODS, SO CHECK OUT THE MINIMUM SAFE COOKING TEMPERATURES CHART AT FOODSAFETY.GOV. IT’S VERY HANDY. ONCE YOU KNOW THE TEMPERATURE YOUR MEAT SHOULD BE COOKED TO, CHECK IT WITH A FOOD THERMOMETER. WHILE THE CHICKEN IS COOKING, I WANT TO TALK ABOUT REFRIGERATION. YOU SHOULD REFRIGERATE OR FREEZE MEAT, POULTRY, EGGS, SEAFOOD, AND OTHER PERISHABLES WITHIN TWO HOURS OF PURCHASING OR COOKING. COLD TEMPERATURES SLOW THE GROWTH OF HARMFUL BACTERIA, BUT DON’T OVERSTUFF THE FRIDGE. COLD AIR NEEDS TO CIRCULATE TO KEEP FOOD SAFE. YOUR REFRIGERATOR SHOULD BE 40 DEGREES FAHRENHEIT OR COLDER, AND YOUR FREEZER SHOULD BE ZERO DEGREES FAHRENHEIT OR COLDER. A LOT OF REFRIGERATORS DON’T HAVE A TEMPERATURE GAUGE. MANY JUST HAVE A DIAL THAT SAYS “COLDER” OR “WARMER,” SO GET YOURSELF A THERMOMETER LIKE THIS ONE. I’M PRETTY SURE THIS CHICKEN IS DONE, BUT I’M GOING TO CHECK IT WITH THE MEAT THERMOMETER AND CHECK THAT THE MEAT IS REACHING THE RIGHT INTERNAL TEMPERATURE IN SEVERAL DIFFERENT PLACES SO YOU KNOW IT’S DONE. IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, YOU LOVE FILLING THE HOUSE WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS AND FEEDING THEM TONS OF FOOD, SO WHEN YOU ARE PREPPING THAT BIG FAMILY DINNER, NEVER THAW FOOD OUT ON THE COUNTER BECAUSE THAT ALLOWS PATHOGENS TO MULTIPLY. YOU CAN THAW IN THE REFRIGERATOR OR IN COLD RUNNING WATER, OR YOU CAN USE THE MICROWAVE, BUT IF YOU DO, YOU’LL HAVE TO COOK THE FOOD RIGHT AWAY. THESE METHODS TAKE TIME, SO MAKE SURE YOU PLAN WELL AND GIVE YOUR FOOD PLENTY OF TIME TO THAW THE RIGHT WAY. IF YOU HAVE A BUFFET SET UP FOR YOUR GUESTS, YOU NEED TO MAKE SURE COLD FOODS STAY COLD AND HOT FOODS STAY HOT, AND WHEN YOU ARE WITH FAMILY AND GOOD FRIENDS, IT’S EASY TO SIT AND TALK FOR HOURS AND FORGET THAT THE FOOD IS STILL OUT ON THE COUNTER, SO MAKE SURE YOU PUT FOODS AWAY WITHIN TWO HOURS TO KEEP IT SAFE. YOU DON’T WANT THOSE DELICIOUS LEFTOVERS TO MAKE YOU SICK. LEFTOVERS CAN BE KEPT IN THE REFRIGERATOR FOR 3 TO 4 DAYS OR FROZEN FOR 3 TO 4 MONTHS. ALTHOUGH SAFE INDEFINITELY, FROZEN LEFTOVERS CAN LOSE MOISTURE AND FLAVOR WHEN STORED FOR LONGER TIMES. AS YOU CAN SEE, WITH THESE STEPS, WE CAN KEEP FOOD SAFE, HEALTHY, AND FUN. IF YOU SHOULD BECOME ILL AND THINK THAT THE CAUSE MAY HAVE BEEN FOODBORNE, REPORT IT TO YOUR PRIMARY CARE PROVIDER OR YOUR LOCAL HEALTH DEPARTMENT, AND FOR EVEN MORE INFORMATION ABOUT SAFE FOOD HANDLING, PREPARATION, AND USEFUL TIPS, GO ONLINE TO FDA.GOV/FOOD. FOR INFORMATION ABOUT SAFE FOOD STORAGE, TRY THE FOODKEEPER APP AT FOODSAFETY.GOV.

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