Foodborne illness, also known as food poisoning, is a common and potentially serious health problem that is caused by consuming contaminated food or drinks. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins that are present in the food we eat. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and in some cases, even death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, 48 million people in the United States get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. These numbers are staggering, and it is important for everyone to be aware of the dangers of foodborne illness and take steps to prevent it.

One of the most common causes of foodborne illness is improper food handling and storage. When food is not handled or stored properly, bacteria can grow and multiply, leading to food poisoning. This can happen at any point in the food production and distribution chain – from the farm to the table. It is important to thoroughly clean all fruits and vegetables, properly store meat and eggs, and cook food to the appropriate temperature to kill any harmful bacteria.

Another common cause of foodborne illness is cross-contamination. This occurs when bacteria from one food item are transferred to another, often through improper food handling and preparation. For example, if you use the same cutting board and knife to prepare raw meat and then use them to prepare vegetables without properly cleaning them in between, you are at risk of cross-contamination. To prevent this, it is important to use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and other foods, and to clean and sanitize all surfaces and utensils after handling raw meat.

The most common types of bacteria that cause foodborne illness include Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria. These bacteria can be found in a wide variety of foods, including raw meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, unpasteurized milk and cheese, and raw fruits and vegetables. It is important to properly cook and handle these foods to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

In addition to bacteria, viruses and parasites can also cause foodborne illness. These can be found in contaminated water, seafood, and raw produce. Hepatitis A, norovirus, and parasites like Cryptosporidium and Cyclospora are common culprits of foodborne illness.

The symptoms of foodborne illness can vary depending on the type of bacteria, virus, or parasite and the individual’s immune system. While most cases of foodborne illness are mild and resolve on their own, some can be severe and require medical attention. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from foodborne illness.

To protect yourself and your family from foodborne illness, it is important to follow safe food handling and storage practices. This includes washing hands and surfaces often, separating raw meat from other foods, cooking food to the appropriate temperature, and refrigerating perishable foods promptly. It is also important to be mindful of where you are getting your food from and to avoid consuming foods that may have been recalled due to contamination.

Foodborne illness is a serious issue that can affect anyone, and it is important to be aware of the dangers and take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. By following safe food handling practices and being mindful of the risks, you can reduce the chances of getting sick from contaminated food. Remember, the dangers of foodborne illness may be lurking in your dinner, but with the right precautions, you can minimize the risk and enjoy your meals safely.

About the author

Kwame Anane