Preventing Foodborne Illnesses From the Farm to the Fridge

image for food allergy articleSalmonella and E. coli have become well known culprits of foodborne illness in the United States. It is the responsibility of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to try to determine and contain this source of the illnesses. Determining the source a complicated process. Food is tracked from its farm or garden routes through processing, packaging, store life, and finally to individual homes or restaurants. Although Salmonella and E. coli are popular scapegoats, there are, in fact, many different types of bacteria, parasites, or viruses that cause illness. They can and have been picked up at any point along the food supply route. In addition, poisonous chemicals or agents can also get into foods and cause illness. So can we trust any food?

Why Worry?

Perhaps you have had a food-related illness in the past. While unpleasant, you survived. For many people, food illness causes minor sickness and usually only lasts a couple of days. The illness may cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, and perhaps a strong desire to avoid certain foods in the future. However, some cases can be much more serious and cause disabilities or death. Pregnant women are at risk for having a miscarriage, premature delivery, or stillbirth. People with immune system problems are also more likely to have serious complications. There are several methods to help decrease the chance of getting these illnesses. Many of the processes started over a hundred years ago. Pasteurization and safety standards in food preparation and canning are just a few examples. Other processes like food irradiation are newer methods. But the nature of the infectious agents and food processing may not allow total safety. People also need to be aware of and play their role in decreasing their risks.

Food Watch

Efforts from agencies, such as the CDC, are in place. They are constantly working to identify and contain sources of foodborne illnesses. Meanwhile bacteria, viruses, and parasites are evolving and finding new ways to thrive. As foods arrive from new areas and new packaging and processing methods are tried, the chance for new illness can arise. To add to the problem, different countries have different food care standards and enforcements. The United States has seen serious problems from foods imported from other countries.In the United States, the public health departments monitor cases of foodborne illness. Similarities in cause of infection are noted. An outbreak of similar illnesses may indicate a more systemic problem. By tracing outbreaks, any new infectious agents can be tracked. Ideally, the problem will be found before it infects more people. Recalls of foods or closing of restaurants are often the first steps.Researchers will look for the particular bacteria, virus, or parasite causing the illnesses. The offender will have a specific DNA signature. This will help researchers match up common links even if the food were distributed all over the United States. Once a particular culprit is found, a possible food link is identified. The food will be followed back through preparation, distribution, and growth until the contamination is identified. This process can take some time and become very complex.

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