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Foodborne Illness Outbreak Numbers

June 12, 2024
chefs preparing food

The recent rise of norovirus outbreaks across the United States is a stark reminder of the ever-present threat of foodborne illness. While many of us may have experienced “food poisoning” or know someone who has, the scale and severity of this issue often go unnoticed. Let’s delve into the numbers behind foodborne illness outbreaks, the most common culprits, and the critical role of safe food handling practices.

CDC Statistics on Foodborne Illness Outbreaks

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a staggering 48 million Americans get sick from foodborne illnesses each year. Of these cases, 128,000 result in hospitalization, and tragically, 3,000 end in death. The impact of these illnesses can also go beyond immediate discomfort: the FDA estimates that 2% to 3% of all food poisoning cases lead to secondary long-term conditions like arthritis, kidney failure, and meningitis.

Norovirus, often associated with cruise ship outbreaks, is responsible for 58% of foodborne illnesses acquired in the United States. With approximately 2,500 reported outbreaks annually, norovirus is a significant public health concern. Even a 1% reduction in foodborne illness could prevent nearly 500,000 people from getting sick each year, highlighting the importance of vigilance in food safety.

Top 5 Most Common Foodborne Illnesses

Out of the 250 identified foodborne diseases, five stand out as the most frequent instigators:

  1. Norovirus: This highly contagious virus spreads through contaminated food, water and surfaces. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and fever.
  2. Salmonella: This bacteria is often found in raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, and unpasteurized milk. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.
  3. Clostridium perfringens: This bacteria thrives in environments with low oxygen levels, such as large batches of food kept warm for extended periods. Symptoms include diarrhea and abdominal cramps.
  4. Campylobacter: This bacteria is commonly found in raw or undercooked poultry and contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.
  5. Staphylococcus aureus (Staph): This bacteria is found on human skin and can contaminate food through improper handling. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Serious Foodborne Illnesses

While less common, some foodborne illnesses pose more severe risks:

First Line of Defense

The good news is that the majority of foodborne illnesses are preventable through simple yet effective food safety practices. By incorporating these practices into your daily routine, you can safeguard yourself, your loved ones, and your customers from the risks associated with contaminated food.

Thorough Handwashing

The most basic and crucial step in preventing foodborne illness is thorough handwashing. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food, especially raw meat, poultry, and seafood. This simple act removes harmful bacteria and viruses that can contaminate food and cause illness.

Proper Food Storage

To prevent cross-contamination, store raw meat, poultry, and seafood on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruits, vegetables, and cooked dishes. Use airtight containers or wraps to store leftovers promptly and make sure they are consumed within a safe time frame.

Thorough Cooking

Cooking food to the appropriate internal temperature is essential to kill harmful bacteria. Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, seafood and eggs are cooked to their recommended temperatures. Avoid consuming raw or undercooked animal products to minimize the risk of foodborne illness.

Prompt Refrigeration

Refrigerate perishable foods promptly, ideally within two hours of cooking or purchasing. This helps to slow down bacterial growth and maintain food safety. Divide large portions of leftovers into smaller containers to facilitate faster cooling in the refrigerator.

Avoiding Cross-Contamination

Prevent the spread of harmful bacteria by using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods. Never place cooked food on a plate or surface that previously held raw meat. Regularly clean and sanitize kitchen surfaces, utensils, and equipment to maintain a hygienic food preparation environment.

Additional Safety Tips

Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating or preparing them.

Avoid consuming raw or unpasteurized milk and dairy products.

Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, cold water or microwave. Never thaw food at room temperature.

When in doubt, throw it out. If you are unsure about the safety of a food item, it’s best to discard it to avoid potential illness.

By adhering to these safe food handling practices, you can significantly reduce the risk of foodborne illness and protect the safety and enjoyment of your meals. Remember, proper food handling is an investment in your health and well-being.

Get Certified in Safe Food Handling with Certified On The Fly

To learn more about foodborne illness prevention and ensure your safety and that of your coworkers and customers, consider becoming a certified food handler.

Certified On The Fly offers a self-paced, online Texas Food Handler training course and is licensed and accredited by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). For only $9.99, you can gain the knowledge and skills necessary to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks and promote a safe food environment.

Foodborne illness is a preventable problem. By understanding the risks, following safe food handling practices, and obtaining proper training, we can significantly reduce the number of people affected by these illnesses. Remember, every step you take towards food safety contributes to a healthier community.

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