Top 10 tips to prevent food poisoning, which is rising in U.S.
While certain causes of food poisoning in America have declined due in part to a government crackdown on slaughterhouses, other types of food poisoning are actually increasing in this country, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
To combat these increasing rates of poisoning from food, the CDC says there needs to be better regulation of meat along with stricter regulation of produce and processed food.
Meanwhile, there are steps you can take to help prevent food poisoning.
The National Institutes of Health recommends the following when preparing food:
1. Carefully wash your hands often, and always before cooking or cleaning. Always wash them again after touching raw meat.
2. Clean dishes and utensils that have had any contact with raw meat, poultry, fish, or eggs.
3. Use a thermometer when cooking. Cook beef to at least 160°F, poultry to at least 180°F, and fish to at least 140°F.
4. DO NOT place cooked meat or fish back onto the same plate or container that held the raw meat, unless the container has been completely washed.
5. Promptly refrigerate any food you will not be eating. Keep the refrigerator set to around 40°F and your freezer at or below 0°F.
6. DO NOT eat meat, poultry, or fish that has been refrigerated uncooked for longer than 1 to 2 days.
7. Cook frozen foods for the full time recommended on the package.
8. DO NOT use outdated foods, packaged food with a broken seal, or cans that are bulging or have a dent.
9. DO NOT use foods that have an unusual odor or a spoiled taste.
10. DO NOT drink water from streams or wells that are not treated. Only drink water that has been treated or chlorinated.
Other steps to take:
• If you take care of young children, wash your hands often and dispose of diapers carefully so that bacteria can't spread to other surfaces or people.
• If you make canned food at home, be sure to follow proper canning techniques to prevent botulism.
• DO NOT feed honey to children under 1 year of age.
• DO NOT eat wild mushrooms.
• When traveling where contamination is more likely, eat only hot, freshly cooked food.
• Drink water only if it has been boiled. DO NOT eat raw vegetables or unpeeled fruit.
• DO NOT eat shellfish that has been exposed to red tides.
• If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, DO NOT eat soft cheeses, especially soft cheeses imported from countries outside the U.S.
If other people may have eaten the food that made you sick, let them know. If you think the food was contaminated when you bought it from a store or restaurant, tell the store and your local health department. It also helps to be aware of new bugs on the rise.
According to the CDC's regular survey of foodborne illness, there is one stomach bug in particular that is becoming more common, causing more Americans to get sick. The bug, called Campylobacter, is carried in chicken and unpasteurized milk and cheese, according to the CDC’s regular survey of foodborne illness.
Dr. Robert Tauxe is an expert in foodborne illness at the CDC who says meat-related foodborne illnesses have dramatically declined since 1996, when the CDC began to seriously follow trends.
“When we look at what has changed between the 2006-2008 period and now, unfortunately nothing has gone down and a couple of infections have gone up,” Tauxe told NBC News. “Campylobacter has increased 14 percent since 2006-2008 and then there are the much less common Vibrio infections, and those have increased 43 percent,” he added.
Then, in 2012, there were 193 reported cases of Vibrio infection that resulted in the deaths of six victims. Vibrio bacteria most frequently infect people who eat raw oysters, or those who have an open cut and go into warm sea water, where the bacteria thrives.
“The warmer it is, the more Vibrios there are,” Taux said. “It grows a lot when the water is warm. It is a problem in the summer much more than in the winter.”
Vibrio can cause serious and even life-threatening infection, especially for those who have liver disease.
"The U.S. food supply remains one of the safest in the world. However, some foodborne diseases continue to pose a challenge. We have the ability, through investments in emerging technologies, to identify outbreaks even more quickly and implement interventions even faster to protect people from the dangers posed by contaminated food," explained CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H.
In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the CDC released numbers of the incidence and trends of infection of foodborne illness pathogens from 1996 to 2012. The report, called the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), found in 2012 that there were a total of 19,531 infections, 4,563 hospitalizations, and 68 deaths associated with foodborne disease that were documented. Yet, these numbers do not reflect the majority of foodborne cases that are not reported to the government.
Meanwhile, the single most common cause of foodborne disease is Salmonella by far.
“Salmonella is in the number one spot, causing 40 percent of the infections that the FOODNet system collected,” Tauxe said. “Campylobacter was number two, pretty close behind at 35 percent.”
Indeed, according to FOODNet, there were 33 deaths from 7800 documented cases of people infected with Salmonella in 2012. For that same year, there were nearly 6 deaths from nearly 7000 cases of people infected with Campylobacter. Again however, those numbers reflect only a small percentage of documented cases. They do not include CDC estimates that reveal an approximate 48-million people get infected from food poisoning each year, with 3000 of them dying as a result.
“We figure that for every infection that is diagnosed, there are 25 or 30 more illnesses out there,” Tauxe said. “Maybe some of those people don’t see a doctor or maybe they do see a doctor but there isn’t a culture.”
Although the CDC reports that tighter USDA regulations likely contributed to the decline in Campylobacter infections during the late 1990s and early 2000s, Tauxe says that more needs to be done.
“What I take away from this is we need to think more and more about what happens to the animals before they come to slaughter, what happens back on the farm and what happens with other foods such as produce and processed foods,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tauxe say new FDA regulations for produce could aid in the prevention of other sources of foodborne infections. Such regulations mandate that manufacturing facilities where food is processed, packed or stored, come up with formal plans to prevent their products from causing foodborne illness.
This year, FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg asked Congress for $295.8 million to assist in the implementation of the new regulations.
“The fresh produce is important. We have had a lot of Salmonella problems related to fresh produce,” Tauxe said. “Further attention to poultry parts and ground poultry like ground turkey may help, and the processed food industry – the people who make peanut butter and many other processed foods – I think there is room for improvement there.”
Unsanitary slaughtering of animals and unclean handling of meat are two culprits that can result in food poisoning in humans. And fresh produce has been linked to contamination by manure, but Tauxe believes there may be more to it than that.
“There is reason to think that some Salmonella may be more at home than we think in plants,” he said.
“They are not just passively on the plant,” Tauxe They may be inside the plant, which is a great place to be because you don’t get washed off and the next animal or person to eat the plant gets it.”
SOURCES: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, April 19, 2013 / 62(15);283-287 (Incidence and Trends of Infection with Pathogens Transmitted Commonly Through Food — Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, 10 U.S. Sites, 1996–2012); National Institutes of Health, Medline Plus