It seems like we can’t go one day without hearing about a recall of some food product due to Salmonella, Listeria, E.Coli or a myriad of other pathogens wreaking havoc on our society. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year foodborne illnesses affect 1 in 6 Americans, around 48 million people, with 128,000 people hospitalized, and 3,000 resulting in death. According to a 2011 Consumer Food and Products Insight Survey by Deloitte consulting, over 70% of people surveyed are more concerned about food safety today than five years ago.
So what are some of these pathogens in the news recently and why are we seeing so many associated with food recalls?
Salmonella is a bacteria that can cause different infections. Those infected with the Salmonella bacteria may commonly exhibit symptoms attributed to a “stomach flu” such as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps and even nausea and vomiting.
Salmonella is the second most common foodborne bacteria, with the CDC reporting over 1 million U.S. cases annually.
You can get a foodborne Salmonella infection by eating contaminated or undercooked food such as eggs, egg products, meat, meat products, unpasteurized milk, or other unpasteurized dairy products.
Wash hands and cooking utensils, and thoroughly cook food to help avoid Salmonella infection.
As we reported previously, “Listeria is most often associated with lunch meats, and is also found in raw milk, soft cheeses (like bries, Camembert, queso blanco and others), ice cream, raw vegetables, fermented raw-meat sausages, raw and cooked poultry, raw meats (all types), and raw and smoked fish.”
Listerosis, or the infection of Listeria, presents with severe gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. You may also have severe headaches, fever and an extremely stiff neck. The incubation period for Listerosis is long. You can ingest Listeria and may not see symptoms for a few days and even up to over a month from the time you ate the contaminated food. This is one reason we continue to hear about illnesses and deaths linked to the recent cantaloupe recall.
The scary thing about Listeria is that it can grow in the refrigerator at regular refrigerated temperatures (where other bacteria cannot). This means you should avoid those deli meat salads (ham salad, egg salad, tuna salad, etc.) at the store and eat lunch meat within a few days of purchase.
Listeria can be extremely dangerous for pregnant women, even causing fatalities in unborn children. Pregnant women should especially avoid soft cheeses and lunch meats.
Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is a common bacteria found in human and animal intestinal tracts. It is transmitted to food through unsanitary practices such as lack of hand washing and also through farmland and food contaminated with animal and human feces.
There are hundreds of different strains of E. coli and, according to the CDC, about 85% have been reported to infect foods including ground beef, sausages, unpasteurized milk and cheese, unpasteurized apple juice and cider, orange juice, sprouts, lettuce, and spinach. Water has even been reported contaminated with E.coli.
E. coli infection symptoms include severe abdominal cramps, watery diarrhea, bloody stools and even fever, nausea and vomiting.
To avoid E. coli infections, cook meat thoroughly and wash your hands completely. E. coli is extremely contagious and can easily be passed on by infected individuals.
Some believe that part of the problem is with long transport of food from across the nation or even from different countries. The longer that the food sits in transport, the larger the increase for contamination.
However, in a recent Reuters report, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, stated, “It is not that food is getting riskier but we are getting better at identifying problems.”