September Is Food Safety Education Month
Every day, thousands of Iowans eat at restaurants, catered events, church buffets and potlucks. Some of those Iowans will become ill in the following week or two, thanks to a food-borne illness. A food-borne illness is any illness caused by eating contaminated food or water. According to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, 581 cases of food-related illnesses were investigated in 2007; 117 cases were confirmed. In 2008, 76 complaints have been received and 13 have been confirmed. These numbers represent only a fraction of the actual number of food-borne illnesses that occur in Iowa, since only a small percentage of cases are reported.
Most food-borne illnesses that occur in Iowa don't last long (1-3 days), go away on their own and are not life threatening; however, some food-borne illnesses can be deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are taken to the hospital, and 5,000 people die from food-borne illnesses. Most of the things that cause food-borne illnesses affect the digestive tract, and symptoms generally include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and white of eyes).
Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) Medical Director, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, says most food-related illnesses resolve by themselves, but dehydration is always a concern with diarrhea and vomiting. "It is very important, no matter what the cause of the food-borne illness, to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids," said Quinlisk. "However, if symptoms are severe, do not go away quickly, or you become dehydrated, you should call your medical provider." These severe symptoms include:
* Bloody or lots of watery diarrhea
* Bad abdominal cramps
* Dehydration, especially in a young child or an elderly person
* High fever or a fever lasting longer than a day or two
People who are higher risk (young children, pregnant women, elderly or those immune system disorders) or anyone who has had severe or long-lasting symptoms should see a doctor. You should call your local health department if the food that you think made you sick is from a restaurant, food stand, or was served at a gathering.
If you suspect you may have a food-borne illness, it's important to wash your hands with soap and water more often and avoid preparing food for others - many food-related illnesses can be spread to other people from you while you are ill., especially if you have diarrhea or vomiting.