Some Straight Talk About Foodborne Disease

Food recalls have increased in recent years, but that’s good news. It means contaminated products from salad greens to ice cream pops are being tested and pulled off the shelves faster. Yet, 1 in 6 Americans still experiences a foodborne illness each year.

In fact, that figure may be low because experts believe that only about 1 in 20 cases gets reported. While most symptoms will go away on their own, understanding food safety will help you and your family to stay healthy and avoid any long-term complications. Try these tips for preventing and treating food poisoning.

Preventing Foodborne Illness

1. Wash your hands. Clean your hands before handling food. Use hot water and lather up with soap.

2. Stop cross-contamination. The juices from raw foods like meat, poultry, and fish can contaminate other products. Use different cutting boards for meat and vegetables. When shopping, bag raw foods separately.

3. Cook foods thoroughly. Browse online or pick up a book that will teach you the correct temperature for cooking hamburgers or scallops. Learn how to use a meat thermometer.

4. Store foods safely. Consult reliable sources like government agencies and universities to find out how long you can hang onto various leftovers. When in doubt, toss them out. Set your freezer to 0 degrees Fahrenheit and your refrigerator to 40 degrees or lower.

5. Defrost carefully. Thawing food overnight in the refrigerator is usually the safest option. Leaving it out on the kitchen counter may seem faster, but you’re likely to wind up with bacteria.

6. Spot high-risk items. Most foods are okay as long as they’re handled correctly. On the other hand, extra precautions may be desirable for individuals who are at higher risk such as small children or the elderly. Some items that require extra care include raw and undercooked meat and fish, as well as soft cheese.

7. Consider canning. Home canning may sound appealing if you want to save money, and limit your exposure to BPA. Just be sure to research proper procedures first so you avoid contamination.

8. Support meaningful regulations. While there are many steps you can take at home, the food industry has a role to play too. Stay updated on legislation that affects food supplies.

Treating Foodborne Illness

1. Identify the cause. Different kinds of foodborne illness require different treatments. Contamination can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other factors.

2. Seek urgent care. While you can usually recover on your own, some cases require prompt attention. Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you have severe abdominal pain or become sick after eating mushrooms or canned products.

3. Replace lost fluids. Diarrhea is the most common symptom of food poisoning. Home remedies like drinking lots of water are usually adequate. Call your doctor if your diarrhea is severe or lasts more than 2 days.

4. Eat light. Stop eating for a few hours if you’re feeling queasy. Then, start with bland foods like rice and bananas until you’re back on track.

5. Rest up. Good quality sleep and relaxation will help your body to heal. Avoid vigorous activity for a while and take an extra nap. Cut out potential irritants like alcohol and tobacco.

6. Follow your doctor’s recommendations. Some cases of food poisoning require antibiotics or other treatments. Your doctor can answer any questions about your individual condition.

Most food poisoning is mild, but why risk a trip to the emergency room? Sensible food safety practices enable you to eat a nutritious diet while protecting yourself from foodborne illness.