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For Better Living: Reducing the Risk of Food Borne Illness

By Sandra Cain

Sandra CainFood poisoning affects millions of Americans each year. Common symptoms are similar to the flu and may include headache, nausea, fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Symptoms may appear within a few hours to a few days after eating.

There are four groups of people that are considered to be at higher risk of food borne illness: young children, senior adults, pregnant women, and immune suppressed individuals (such as patients undergoing chemotherapy and organ transplants). These four groups make up about 20% of the population.

Senior adults are at higher risk for several reasons related to the aging process. The immune system’s ability to fight infection declines with age. The stomach becomes less acidic, which limits the body’s ability to fight food borne illness. Sensory organs also change, which may reduce the ability to detect spoiled food by smell or sight.

What Causes Food Borne Illness?
Food borne illnesses are caused by eating food that contains certain types of bacteria or viruses. After the food is eaten, the microorganisms continue to multiply in the digestive tract, causing an infection. Bacteria growing on food may have produced a toxin that causes illness when eaten.

The bacteria that cause food borne illness are everywhere. We cannot keep them out of our foods. However, food borne illness may be prevented if we follow food safety guidelines.

Keep Hot Foods Hot and Cold Foods Cold
You can control the microbial growth by controlling temperature. The temperatures between 41 degrees and 140 degrees are known as the temperature danger zone. By controlling temperature – keeping foods hot or cold, the number of microorganisms that may be present remains small so they are less likely to cause food poisoning.

Keep Everything Clean
The first thing to keep clean is your hands. Handwashing removes microorganisms that could be transferred to food. Wash hands with warm, soapy water before handling any food. Be sure to thoroughly rinse and dry hands. Rewash hands after using the bathroom, touching your face or hair, or sneezing.

Avoid cross-contamination by using separate utensils and cutting boards to cut up raw meats, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Wash utensils and cutting surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after each task.

Don’t use the same plate for cooked meat that was previously used for raw meat. Use clean plates for serving. Keep your kitchen towels and washcloths clean. Use plenty of hot soapy water to wash dishes and follow with a good rinse. Air drying dishes keeps microorganisms from being spread by damp and dirty towels.

Proper Thawing Techniques
The safest way to thaw frozen foods is in the refrigerator or microwave oven. Foods thawed in the refrigerator should be placed on a pan to catch any dripping liquid. Do not thaw on the counter. Microorganisms may begin to grow on the outside of the product while the inside is still frozen.

When in doubt—throw it out! This is the last rule for food safety. Contaminated food may not look bad, smell bad or taste bad. If you think food has been improperly handled while being prepared, cooked or stored, DON’T EAT IT. If you’re not sure, don’t take a chance.

Source: N.C. Cooperative Extension

Asparagus Salad

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed
2 tablespoons water
4 cups spring mix salad greens
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons each – apricot and pineapple preserves
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Place the asparagus and water in a microwave-safe baking dish. Cover and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and immediately place asparagus in ice water. Drain and pat dry.

Place salad greens on a serving platter. Top with asparagus. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, orange juice, preserves, sesame seeds and ginger. Drizzle over salad. Sprinkle with toasted almonds. Yield: 6 servings

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