It’s the holiday season and the last thing you want is to host a house full of ill family members. And no, we’re not talking about the cold or flu. Every year, an estimated one in six Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.
Some people are more susceptible to foodborne illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies the following groups of people as most at risk.
Children under the age of 5 have developing immune systems that haven’t built a tolerance to fight germs and sicknesses. Food poisoning for this age group can often lead to diarrhea and dehydration. If a young child gets salmonella infection, they are three times more likely to be hospitalized. A certain strain of E. coli infection causes one out of seven children under the age of 5 to experience kidney failure.
Pregnant women have altered immune systems due to the changes caused by pregnancy. Harmful bacteria can even infect an unborn baby whose immune system is under-developed. Pregnant women are 10 times more likely to get a listeria infection. Experiencing foodborne illness during pregnancy may lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, sickness or the death of a newborn.
Adults aged 65 or older may have a weakened immune system, which decreases the ability to recognize and get rid of harmful germs. Nearly half of this age group ends up hospitalized if they have a lab-confirmed foodborne disease caused by salmonella, E. coli, listeria or campylobacter.
People with weakened immune systems due to a medical condition or treatment such as cancer, diabetes or HIV/AIDS also face a higher risk of foodborne illness. For example, people who receive dialysis treatments to keep their kidneys functioning are 50 times more likely to get a listeria infection. For people living with diabetes, food passes through their stomach and intestines slower, which can allow harmful foodborne bacteria to multiply.
For these individuals, it’s recommended that food is prepared with extra precaution. The most germ-ridden items in homes are typically found in the kitchen. But, following these four steps can help protect you and your loved ones from contracting a foodborne illness.
1. Clean: Wash your hands and cooking surfaces often.
- Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after preparing food and before eating.
- Wash your utensils, cutting boards and countertops with soap and water.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables with water.
2. Separate: Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate to prevent the spreading of germs.
- Use different cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry and seafood.
- When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry and seafood in separate bags, so their juices don’t leak onto other foods.
- Store raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs away from other foods in the refrigerator.
3. Cook: Cook food to the right temperature.
- Foods should be cooked to a safe internal temperature, so it’s recommended to use a food thermometer. Check this chart for a detailed list of foods and what their internal temperatures should be after cooking.
4. Chill: Refrigerate promptly.
- Keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees.
- Don’t leave perishable food out for longer than two hours, or one hour if it’s hotter than 90 degrees outside.
- Thaw frozen foods either in the refrigerator, with cold water or in the microwave. Do not thaw food out by leaving it on the counter.
Common symptoms associated with food poisoning include upset stomach, diarrhea, vomiting or nausea. If an individual develops a fever over 101.5 degrees or experiences dehydration, frequent vomiting, or diarrhea for more than three days, they should consult a doctor.