September: National Food Safety Education Month
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 6 Americans (over 48 million people) fall victim to foodborne illness each year, leading to the hospitalization of 128,000 people, and the death of 3,000. Because of the continued prevalence of foodborne illness (also known as food poisoning) in America each year, the month of September has been dedicated to the education of its prevention.
Though scientists have discovered over 250 foodborne illnesses, the top five most common and dangerous in the U.S. are norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter and Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph. These microorganisms are bacterium, viruses, and parasites, which typically settle in specific areas of the body, oftentimes the gut, causing a variety of symptoms, including diarrhea, stomach cramps, jaundice, vomiting, fever, and fatigue.
All of these pathogens can be spread through the consumption of contaminated food. The spread of foodborne illnesses is not only the result of malpractice in large farming operations and factories, but also that of restaurants and personal kitchens, due to a lack of proper food safety practices. In the case of farming operations and factories, foodborne pathogens are oftentimes spread because of improper water and waste disposal systems, inadequate equipment cleaning and employee training in regards to cross-contamination and personal hygiene. In the case of restaurants and personal kitchens, foodborne pathogens are generally spread due to cross-contamination, under-cooking raw foods, improper storage, and poor personal hygiene.
The following are four simple steps to prevent the spread of foodborne illnesses that should always be implemented, whether in in a large or small food handling environment:
- Clean: hands, utensils, and surfaces should be cleaned before, during, and after dealing with food.
- Separate: raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs should always be kept separate from food eaten raw.
- Cook: a food thermometer should be used to ensure that all food is cooked to the proper internal temperature before it is served. The Safe Minimum Cooking Temperature Chart can be used as a reference.
- Chill: all perishable foods and leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours of being cooked and 1 hour if \exposed to above 90°F weather.
For more materials and information regarding food safety practices, visit the FDA’s website.