Nearly 50 million Americans get sick every year from eating food contaminated with bacteria, parasites, or viruses. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 128,000 of these cases require hospitalization and 3,000 result in death.
According to a November 2015 CDC report, foodborne illness outbreaks occur twice a month on average in this country. In the last month, we’ve seen major recalls of frozen fruits and vegetables, veggie burgers, and granola bars due to potential listeria contamination.
Most recently, General Mills has voluntarily recalled flour that may be linked to an E. coli breakout.
Protecting yourself and your family is a tremendous challenge. The first step is to be informed: The FDA keeps an updated list of food product recalls on its website.
Another problem is that many of the same foods that are part of a healthy diet are common causes of foodborne illnesses. The CDC lists leafy greens as the No. 1 cause of food-related outbreaks.
Foods can become contaminated at many points between production, processing, and distribution. For example, water used to spray fields can contaminate fruits and vegetables before they even leave the farm.
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When it comes to food storage and preparation, there are measures that you can take at home to reduce the risk of food poisoning. The Mayo Clinic suggests:
Make sure utensils and food surfaces are clean. If you use a knife and cutting board to cut raw meat, clean them with hot, soapy water.
Separate raw and ready-to-eat foods to prevent cross-contamination.
Perishable foods should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of purchasing or preparing.
Make sure foods are properly cooked, and check internal temperature with a meat thermometer. Ground beef should be cooked to 160 F; steaks and roasts to at least 145 F; pork to at least 160 F; chicken and turkey to 165 F; and fish usually to 145 F.
Defrost food properly — not at room temperature. The safest way to thaw foods is to defrost them in the refrigerator or to use the “defrost” setting on a microwave.
If you think you may have become ill because of food contamination or improper labeling, you can report it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.