Food Poisoning Sickens 48 Million Americans Annually, Kills 3,000
One in every six Americans gets sick from foodborne illnesses each year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control. Among those who fall ill, 128,000 end up in the hospital and 3,000 die. The figures, which the agency says are the most accurate to date, give officials a better understanding of just how big a problem food poisoning is—and they're not happy. "Foodborne illnesses and deaths are preventable, and as such, are unacceptable," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a press release, in which she emphasized the need for "intensifying" efforts in prevention and passing food-safety legislation. The report also sheds light on which pathogens most frequently sicken Americans, including: salmonella, norovirus, and E. coli O157.
Salmonella, recently in the spotlight for causing a massive egg recall, is a particularly serious illness. A few crucial tips can help prevent infection, U.S. News's Nancy Shute reported in 2009.
Eat well-cooked food. In recent years, some of the nastiest food poisoning outbreaks have been caused by fresh fruit and veggies—canteloupes and jalapeño peppers in 2008, and spinach in 2006. Washing doesn't solve the problem, since pathogens can get inside the nooks and crannies of a cantaloupe rind, for example. There's also evidence that leafy greens and tomatoes can slurp bacteria into their cells along with water, either in the field or during processing. As Doug Powell, director of the International Food Safety Network at Kansas State University, says: "Washing's not enough. You gotta cook it." If you're worried, sautéed spinach is a better bet than salad. Cooking meats thoroughly eliminates pathogens common in chicken and ground beef.
Don't presume that organic means safe. Organic standards don't deal with bacteria, and in the nasty 2006 E. coli outbreak in spinach, organic spinach was among the culprits. Many organic foods are now grown overseas, where oversight is skimpy at best. So, buying organic is no excuse to slack off on safe food handling practices.
Keep a squeaky-clean kitchen. Chicken is one common food that's almost always contaminated with bad bugs, and it's easy to spread the bacteria to other foods via knives, cutting boards, and hands. Food-safety experts recommend keeping raw chicken and meats away from foods that aren't going to be cooked, and washing cutting boards and utensils with hot soapy water. Some cooks use a bleach rinse on cutting boards, while others reserve a cutting board for raw meats only. This primer on common sources of food poisoning gives the lowdown on banishing bad bugs from the kitchen.
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