Protecting Your Family From Foodborne Illness

My family recently enjoyed a lunch out at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. After we dined, I took my youngest daughter to the restroom to wash her hands. I turned on the water and waited for it to warm up. But after a couple of minutes, the water was still icy cold. I turned the handle all the way to the hot side, and no water came out at all. Knowing a little bit about plumbing, I figured someone had turned off the hot water at the cutoff under the sink, maybe as a joke. I checked it out, and loosened the knob, but still no hot water came out.

Finally, we washed our hands in the painfully cold water. I wondered how many workers had washed in the same cold water, and whether there was hot water available in the kitchen. The lack of one of the basics of hygiene and sanitation scared me. And with good reason. According to the CDC, many foodborne illnesses begin with food handlers who fail to properly wash.

You can’t see contamination

A foodborne illness may be lurking on your dinner plate, but you’d never know it by looking. Germs such as Salmonella, Listeria or E. coli are microscopic and impossible to detect with the naked eye. Likewise the tiny norovirus, a particularly nasty germ responsible for the majority of reported foodborne illness outbreaks.

Norovirus can cause pain, cramping, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. It can be spread person to person or from contaminated surfaces, food or drink. Thousands of people are hospitalized and hundreds die each year from this common illness, and poor hygiene is a major risk factor in the spread of the disease.

Protecting yourself

Eating at home and employing good food handling techniques can help protect you and your family from foodborne illness. When you do go out to eat, you can help reduce your risk by sticking to clean establishments with a good reputation. These are more likely to train their employees in the importance of proper hygiene and safe food handling techniques.

Pay attention to announcements regarding outbreaks of foodborne illnesses and exercise extra caution when the risk is high. And consider what you order when someone else is preparing your food. While a leafy green salad is a healthy choice, these veggies can be particularly dangerous with respect to hidden contaminants.

You can’t avoid all foodborne illnesses, but you can improve your chances of making it through an outbreak without becoming infected if you stay informed.

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