Foodborne illness is an illness that can be caused by eating contaminated food or water. Illness can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals. Illness can begin anywhere from minutes after eating in the case of allergens to several weeks after, like with hepatitis A. Generally though, illness usually starts several hours to a few days after eating the contaminated food. Most foodborne illnesses are of short duration (1 to 3 days) and are not life threatening.
Types of Foodborne Illness
Poisoning – Caused by toxins left when certain types of microbes grow in the food. Botulism is caused by a toxin.
Infections – Caused when viral particles or microbes (bacteria, protozoa) invade the body through food or water and begin attacking, usually, the digestive system or the liver. Common causes of foodborne infection include Salmonella, Shigella, and norovirus.
Allergic reaction – caused by a person eating a food or ingredient they are allergic to. Common food allergens are shellfish and nuts.
Characteristics of Foodborne Illness
The agents that cause foodborne illness cannot be tasted or smelled. You may feel fine for days following ingestion of a foodborne pathogen (germ). In most cases antibiotic treatment is not needed. However, if your illness persists or gets worse, call your physician. With most types of foodborne illness, dehydration is a major concern. Drink plenty of fluids. Your physician may prescribe medicines to stop vomiting or diarrhea.
When diarrhea is bloody, mucousy, persists more than two days, or if there is a high fever, a stool culture is recommended. Without results of a stool culture, investigation of the foodborne illness is very difficult. Often only an educated guess can be made as to what caused the illness.
Many food borne illnesses are self-limiting – they resolve on their own within a few days. However, if your illness persists or gets worse, call your physician. Dehydration is a major concern when you have profuse vomiting and/or diarrhea. Drink plenty of fluids. When diarrhea is bloody, mucousy, persists more than two days, or if there is a high fever, a stool culture is needed. Without results of a stool culture, investigation of the foodborne illness is very difficult. Often only an educated guess can be made as to what caused the illness.
Impact of Foodborne Illness
- Each year there are about 76 million cases of foodborne illness nationwide.
- There are approximately 325,000 hospitalizations annually from foodborne illness.
- Deaths from foodborne illness each year total about 5,000.
Food Safety Tips
Food safety is important all year around, but especially in the hot summer months here in Arizona. Don’t ruin your fun events with friends and family with a food borne illness. Follow these food safety tips:
- Store food safely in the refrigerator with raw meats, poultry and fish on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to prevent raw juices from contacting other foods.
- Always marinate in the refrigerator and discard after use.
- Never chop vegetables on the same cutting board used to prepare raw meats, poultry or fish unless the board is thoroughly cleaned between uses.
- Thoroughly cook raw meats; hamburger to 155ºF and chicken to 165ºF. Don’t guess! Use a thermometer.
- Use clean dishes, serving plates and utensils for cooked foods.
- Eat perishable foods within 2 hours.
- Discard leftovers if they have set out over 2 hours.
- Remember to wash hands before handling food and immediately after.
Food Safety When the Power Goes Out
If the power is out for less than 2 hours, the food in your refrigerator is safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold. If the power is out for longer than 2 hours, follow these guidelines:
- Do not open the freezer. A full freezer will usually hold food safely for 48 hours.
- Put milk, dairy products, meat, fish and other perishable products into a cooler with ice.
- Before you use any foods, use a metal stem thermometer to check the temperature, throw away any food that has exceeded 41 degrees.
How to Buy SAFE Tamales and Other Ethnic Foods
Here in the Southwest, tamales are for sale everywhere, from the grocery case to the street corner. Following are some guidelines to consider before making that purchase. Be sure the product is labeled with manufacturer’s name and address and list of ingredients.
- Watch your temperatures; there are only three safe temperatures when it comes to purchasing perishable food: Frozen (basically 0 degrees or less), Cold (41 degrees or less) or Hot (130 degrees or more in Arizona). Anything in between is in the Danger Zone and a prime target for bacterial growth.
- All food sold to the public needs to be under permit and inspection by the Yavapai County Community Health Services. If in doubt, have the vendor show you their YCCHS license.