Children at Higher Risk for Foodborne Illness – Food Poisoning:
Kids, especially little ones, don’t have much say regarding what they eat. It’s a good thing, though, or else it may very well be ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Because they have limited control over their diet, and are reliant on their parents and other adults to feed them safe foods and use safe food preparation practices, they are at increased risk for foodborne illness. In fact, roughly one-half of all foodborne illnesses that are reported are on behalf of children. The Center for Disease Control reports that millions of people will report foodborne illness each year and of those, hundreds of thousands will require hospitalization and sadly, many people will die. Children will be among these numbers – some will be sickened and recover and others will battle life-long health problems or die.
Children are at higher risk of illness from various pathogens simply because they do not have fully developed immune systems. For children, like the elderly or immunocompromised individuals of any age, they simply do not have the ability to kill the harmful bacteria or viruses that have invaded their bodies. In children, also, are factors such as a lower body weight- allowing a lesser amount of the pathogen to do its dirty work. And, they lack the stomach acid that the body employs to kill pathogens intent on doing the body harm. Most of the foodborne illnesses that impact children have to do with contaminated foods, water or the soil from where the food was grown. Other avenues by which illness makes its way into small bodies is undercooked meats or unpasteurized dairy products, or cross contamination.
Several pathogens are repeat players in the foodborne illness landscape. E Coli O157 is one that is very common. E Coli O157 is generally associated with contamination by animal feces. Meats, veggies or dairy products are susceptible to cross contamination. Symptoms can include diarrhea, vomiting, or more extensive health issues such as kidney disease (Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome) and even death. Another common foodborne pathogen is Listeria Monocytogenes. This bacterium can be present in a variety of foods from uncooked vegetables to lunch meats and hot dogs. Causing fever and diarrhea, Listeria can also be very dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn child. Other illnesses such as Campylobacter, Salmonella and Shigella impact children and will lead to short- or long-term health problems and sometimes hospitalization or death.
Especially as children are at greater risk of many preventable illnesses associated with food- it is extremely important to practice safe food handling and preparation as well as paying attention to public health alerts and recalls. When preparing foods, always wash hands repeatedly, rinse foods well and avoid cross-contamination. Also, pay attention to food cooking guidelines, including temperatures and cooking times. If we are going to force them to eat their veggies and take just a few more bites of that protein- we better be sure the food we are feeding our kids is actually doing their bodies good.