Incredible as it sounds, there are more than 250 foodborne diseases. While some foodborne diseases are caused by toxins, most are caused by parasites, bacteria or viruses. Toxins include the poison which causes botulism or poisonous mushrooms. Bacteria include E. coli and Salmonella. People most susceptible to foodborne illness are the elderly, persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and bottle-fed infants and young children.
Food needs to be handled carefully, but is sometimes handled improperly before it reaches the consumer. Recently, washing in contaminated water was found to be a major cause of infection. Improper storage and handling can also cause contamination. Food requiring refrigeration should be promptly refrigerated at home and carefully washed before cooking or serving.
Handle food carefully in your kitchen. Keep cutting boards and knives clean; do not place cooked food on an unwashed plate which previously held uncooked food. Be sure that all working surfaces in the kitchen are as clean as possible. Wash your hands frequently. If you are ill, especially if you have diarrhea, you should not prepare food for other people.
All foods should be cooked at a sufficiently high heat to kill viruses, bacteria and parasites and destroy most toxins (above 160 degrees F). Eggs should be cooked until the yolk is set and ground beef should be cooked until it is no longer pink inside.
Foods most often associated with foodborne illness are raw meats, poultry, raw shellfish, raw eggs and unpasteurized milk. Fruits and vegetables are also vulnerable. Wash fruits and vegetables in plenty of running tap water, use a clean cutting board and knife to slice fruits and vegetables. Don’t leave cut produce at room temperature for long.
Be selective about the restaurants you patronize, and do not hesitate to report to your health department any foodborne illness you think you caught at a restaurant. Your information may prevent others from becoming ill.