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In a world filled with dangers, sometimes we put food safety on the back burner. Unfortunately, this can lead to complications not only in our own kitchens but wherever we eat. Be it the dinner table, a favorite local restaurant, a picnic by the lake, or even a neighbor’s dinner party; food safety needs to be at the front of our minds. So, what does the CDC Foodborne Report say?
A new report from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) has some staggering news concerning foodborne illnesses and the lack of the decline in those numbers. FoodNet is part of the CDC’s Emerging Infections Program and once you read the report for yourself you will see how much danger we are in and how much more we need to be diligent.
Take the time to read the report, it is technical in nature so it’s a bit – dry if you will – but worth understanding. Here is the takeaway: foodborne illnesses are up, A LOT.
I wanted to point out a few of the bigger picture topics first. The first time I read the report, I was blown away. I knew food safety was an increasingly difficult issue with a lot of moving parts but I wasn’t prepared for this. On a personal note: after reading this report, I have tried even harder to make sure I do my part to keep my family safe.
We have talked a lot about the different foodborne issues (and will continue to do so) so it was no surprise when FoodNet picked ones we hear most about to study:
There is a lot of numbers and information to take in so once again: the most dangerous foodborne illnesses are not getting smaller in their sample size. What this means for us is more care in the kitchen, more effort when we cook, and more awareness when eating out.
It worries me that these numbers are not showing a decline. It should worry you too. The big question is what can we do to help?
I want us to spend a bit more time on prevention this go around because in order to do our part we need to know what we are up against. Through all the research, reading, and talks I’ve had, it keeps coming back to prevention. There are many levels and some are obviously out foe our hands but the ones we can control is where we need to focus our attention.
The 4 Basic Food Safety Steps as outlined by the CDC have been a staple of guidelines even I have gone to in my own kitchen. I still believe it is important to have these as a foundation.
Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often. Germs can survive on many surfaces and if these germs get onto your hands they can make their way to you. We have been bombarded lately with hand-washing and this habit needs to continue. This also applies to fruits and vegetables along with our hands and surfaces.
Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Whether it is meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, fruits, or vegetables; using the same surfaces and utensils without proper washing can and will lead to food poisoning. When using a cutting board, either wash it in between each item or use more than one.
Cook: Cooking food to the correct temperatures ensures that any bacteria hiding in your food will be killed during the process. Hanging on my refrigerator is this chart. I understand there is a lot of discussion about foods tasting better if they are not cooked all the way (namely meats) but this temperature guideline is designed to keep food safe and free from bacteria. The decision is ultimately yours.
Chill: Refrigerating leftovers properly will keep the regrowth of bacteria from happening. You should see my family’s storage container cupboard. Be careful though, if you open the door too fast there could be an avalanche. We have containers for every different food we have leftover. This is preferred instead of storing food together. Another key here is to get those leftovers into containers as soon as possible.
Another tip that is rarely mentioned but a good practice is to use clean wash towels when in the kitchen. Bacteria lives on used towels we use to dry our hands and this will transfer to you.
I would be remiss if I glazed over what to look for if you think food poisoning may be the culprit. Following are the main signs to look out for:
If any of these symptoms (or all of them) occurs, seek medical attention immediately. It is important to drink plenty of liquids in the meantime since this is the primary issue with food poisoning.
Reading over FoodNet’s report for the second time, the words really sunk in that we are heading in a direction that could be dangerous for us all. The fact that food poisoning cases are on the rise should make us take pause and understand what we need to do to keep ourselves safe.
Over the past few months we have been keeping a closer eye on our daily lives with the threat of Covid-19. I will go so far to say that the safety practices we developed need to be translated to our food safety from here on out. Plus, it goes without saying but the practices we have in place to keep us safe from this pandemic need to stay as well.
I want to challenge you from here on out to take a closer look at how we are preparing, serving, and eating our food. To take better care of ourselves so we can do our part to bring down these staggering numbers. And to not only use the information we have learned but tell others as well.
By: Dwight Spencer