According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, forty-eight million individuals get sick from foodborne diseases or food poisoning every year and thousands die. Those most at risk from foodborne illness include the very young and the very old, those with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women. Eating food contaminated by bacteria or viruses results in some or all of these symptoms: nausea, stomach pains, cramps, diarrhea, and fever. More severe cases require hospitalization for convulsions, bloody diarrhea, organ failure, and miscarriage. While there are more than two hundred foodborne diseases identified, a few are more common than others and sicken individuals more often. You are probably familiar with the foodborne illness outbreaks in 2018 like contaminated breakfast cereal and contaminated romaine lettuce. Read on for more about recent common foodborne illness outbreaks, their causes, and prevention.
Salmonella is the bacteria that causes an infection of the intestinal tract. It lives in the intestinal tracts of animals, including birds, and is most commonly contracted by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Foods are contaminated when handled by individuals who don’t wash their hands thoroughly or when there’s a contamination in the harvesting and processing of foods. It can also occur by transfer or touching something contaminated, especially birds and reptiles. Symptoms of infection include nausea and vomiting, painful stomach cramps, diarrhea, headache, fever, and chills. Prevention includes washing hands thoroughly throughout food handling and preparation, and proper cooking and cold storage, taking care to avoid cross-contamination and keeping raw foods separate.
Sources of salmonella in 2018 include contaminated breakfast cereal, raw chicken, backyard chickens, and packaged prepared pasta salad. Individuals in nineteen states became ill after eating a popular brand of breakfast cereal since March 2018, causing a product recall. In September 2017, individuals in four states became ill after eating kosher chicken. A packaged pasta salad was recalled for possible contamination in July 2018 after individuals in nine states became sick after eating it.
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E. coli is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestinal tracts of animals and causes infection in the intestinal tract. Similar to other foodborne diseases, contamination happens when feces get onto food either through handling, processing, or transfer such as from farm runoff on crops. Respected research sources explain exposure is commonly from contaminated raw vegetables and undercooked ground beef. Symptoms of infection include diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea, and vomiting. Prevention includes increased sanitary practices in handling, processing, and food preparation, including thoroughly washing foods and hands, thoroughly cooking foods, especially meat, and avoiding cross-contamination of raw foods both in storage and preparation.
Sources of E. Coli in 2018 include romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, with the contamination source traced to contaminated canal water used to water the crops. Some individuals who became sick hadn’t eaten the contaminated lettuce but had only been in contact with those who had eaten it.
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Listeriosis is a bacterial infection caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Outbreaks of the bacterial illness in the 90s were linked to hot dogs and deli meat, but are more common now with soft cheeses, sprouts, and ice cream. Unlike some other foodborne diseases, listeria infects more than the intestinal tract, infecting the blood, brain, and other parts of the body. If exposed during pregnancy, it spreads to the baby through the placenta, most often resulting in the death of the fetus. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, and convulsions. Some prevention methods include avoiding cheeses other than those made with pasteurized milk, avoiding raw sprouts, and refrigerating cut melons.
Sources of contamination in 2018 include raw milk cheese sickening individuals in four states, packaged salads creating an outbreak spanning nine states, and ice cream that sickened individuals in four states, resulting in product recalls.
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Norovirus is a contagious virus that causes nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. Patients are contagious for a few days after recovery, and even two weeks after. Norovirus is more common in the winter months, spreading more easily indoors and in enclosed areas with concentrated groups, such as cruise ships, schools, and offices. It is spread through contact with infected individuals, by eating contaminated food or drink, and through touching contaminated surfaces then touching your face, mouth, or nose.
Prevention methods include thorough and regular hand washing, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, and thoroughly cooking meats and seafood, avoiding food preparation for others when sick, and staying home when sick.
Although health departments are not currently required to report individual cases of norovirus, they are encouraged to report outbreaks to established reporting systems. There is a definite jump in numbers of illnesses from this virus in 2009, from one thousand in 2008 to over two thousand in 2009, and yearly upward progression since then.
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Hepatitis A is a contagious liver infection, caused by ingesting contaminated food or water or through direct contact with an infected individual. It’s a disease associated with unsafe food, water, and poor sanitation and personal hygiene. There is a vaccine for hepatitis A, thankfully, which is recommended for travelers to specific areas of the world. Symptoms of hepatitis A can be mild or severe and include fever, diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, nausea, and jaundice. Initial infection leads to lifelong immunity.
Prevention includes access to safe drinking water, avoiding communities with improper sewage disposal that leads to exposure, as well as frequent and thorough hand washing. Vaccination is essential in control of exposure and outbreaks, giving protection even after exposure.