Foodborne illness is a serious issue, even in developed countries. Medical News Today recently reported that 600 million people annually fall ill from eating contaminated food, worldwide. 420,000 of those die, including 125,000 children under 5 years old. These numbers came from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Foodborne disease has more than 250 agents, including bacteria, parasites, viruses, toxins and chemicals.
The Most Common Cause of Foodborne Disease
Did you know that the majority of foodborne illness is diarrheal? 550 million people, including 220 million children, suffer from diarrhea triggered by foodborne disease. 96,000 of those children die. Diarrhea can be a killer.
Eating raw or undercooked meat, eggs, fresh produce or dairy products contaminated by norovirus, Campylobacter, Samonella or E. coli is the most frequent cause.
Other causes of foodborne illness include typhoid fever, foodborne cholera, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A. Taenia solium, a tapeworm found in pork, and aflatoxin, a mold found on badly stored grain are also significant causes.
Listerosis in Hong Kong
In the last couple of years, reports of the bacterial infection listerosis, caused by the bacteria listeria monocytogenes, more than doubled here in Hong Kong. The bacteria commonly grows in prepackaged food with a shelf life of more than five days that needs to be refrigerated. 26 cases of the infection were reported in Hong Kong in 2013. It has a 20% estimated mortality rate. 16 cases were reported in the first seven months of 2014.
“Listeriosis can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, blood infection and brain infection among pregnant women, newborns, elderly and people with a weak immune system.”
– South China Morning Post
This Woman Ate A Couple Of Bites Of Raw Cookie Dough
What You Can Do To Prevent Foodborne Illness
Here are some tips on food purchasing, handling and storage to help you safeguard your children’s health and your own from foodborne illness. You can also download a PDF from the World Health Organization here.
- Pay attention to expiry dates on food and never consume food past the expiry date.
- Do not purchase food at stores or restaurants that do not look and smell clean.
- Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods when shopping and in your refrigerator.
- Don’t buy frozen food if the packaging is damaged.
- Do not buy cans that are bulging or dented.
- Buy refrigerated eggs and ensure none are cracked.
- Go to the perishables (frozen food, meat, poultry, fish and eggs) last when shopping, so that they spend less time out of refrigeration.
- Do not leave perishable foods unrefrigerated for lengthy periods of time (in your car, for example). If it will take more than an hour to get groceries home, especially in hot weather, consider getting a cooler to keep perishables in.
- Keep marinating food in the refrigerator.
- Use a meat thermometer to make sure you are cooking meat thoroughly.
- When cooking, wash hands and surfaces often with hot, soapy water.
- Always use a clean cutting board. Be careful of cross contamination between meats and other foods.
- Soak fresh fruits and vegetables in water with 5% vinegar, then rinse under running tap water. This also helps remove pesticides.
- Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
- Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator, not at room temperature.
- Keep hot foods hot (60°C+) and cold foods cold (5°C or lower) during buffet service.
Food poisoning is a serious issue for everyone, but children and the elderly can be particularly vulnerable. Please make sure you follow the 16 tips to prevent foodborne illness above, to keep your family safe.