September is National Food Safety Month. The initiative started in 1994 by ServSafe and the National Restaurant Association to provide educational resources, materials, and programs to develop a strong industry workforce. Food safety has become synonymous with the success of not only restaurants, but processing facilities, transportation lines, coolers, farmers, and consumers.
It is estimated that 1 out of every 6 Americans falls sick due to consuming contaminated food. While everyone is at risk when proper precautions are not taken, children under the age of 5, adults over 65, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems are more likely to fall seriously ill. Symptoms of foodborne illness include: fever over 101.5 degrees F, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, and signs of dehydration (source).
The top 5 germs that cause illness are Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus auereus. Other germs that don’t cause as many illness, but more are more likely to lead to hospitalization include: Clostridium botulinum (botulism), Listeria, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Vibrio. There are over 250 foodborne diseases. While most are infections, some are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites (source).
Contamination can occur at any level in our supply chain. Below are some examples of contamination occurrences at each level:
- Ranch: fields sprayed with contaminated water for irrigation.
- Processing: food contact surfaces not sufficiently cleaned on the processing line.
- Distribution: refrigerated food left in warm temperature on the loading dock for too long.
- Preparation: food worker or consumer is ill and does not adequately wash his or her hands prior to touching the food.
Germs can grow quickly when held at room temperature. A tiny number can grow to a very large number in just a few hours. Reheating or boiling food that has been left a room temperature does not necessarily make it safe. Some germs produce toxins that are not destroyed by heat.
Many measures are taken at each level in our supply chain to ensure the safety of food from field to table, but challenges continue to arise. Changes in our environment, food production and supply, testing procedures, and consumer preferences and habits all contribute to the challenges. While it may seem that foodborne illnesses are more common, that’s not necessarily the case. Technology has advanced in a way that help us better detect pathogens. Awareness is more frequent because detection is better.
For more information on food safety and foodborne illness, visit CDC.gov.