Debra Holtzman, JD, MA, for eDiets.com reports that according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 76 million Americans will suffer from food-borne illness, and at least 5,000 will die this year. Children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk.
Symptoms of food-borne illnesses include diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, blood or even pus in the stool, headache, vomiting and severe exhaustion.
Be aware: Sometimes symptoms may appear as early as a half an hour after eating; other times it could take several days or weeks.
Simple tips for safer eating
1. Lettuce: Because it is grown so close to the ground, it can come into contact with manure or irrigation runoff. Holtzman recommends that when you buy lettuce you first discard the outer leaves. Then separate the inner leaves and thoroughly wash them. Holtzman warns that all raw fruits and vegetables can harbor disease-causing bacteria. She recommends thoroughly washing any raw produce under running cold water before eating it. If appropriate, use a small scrub brush to remove any visible dirt. This is true even for organic fruits and vegetables.
2. Water: Contaminated water can be a major source of trouble, especially for those drinking from private wells or streams. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that private water supplies be tested at least once a year for: nitrates, total dissolved solids and coliform bacteria, the presence of which (although it is generally harmless) may indicate other contamination. You may need to test more frequently and for more potential contaminants if a problem is suspected. In some places, people who get their water from a public utility receive a yearly consumer confidence report that analyzes the water. Read it.
3. Raw sprouts: Alfalfa sprouts, clover sprouts and radish sprouts have all been associated with Salmonella and E. coli. Cook sprouts thoroughly to kill off the bacteria.
4. Unpasteurized juices, milks or cheeses: Make sure you always purchase the pasteurized versions of your favorite products. Pasteurization kills bacteria. When you go to a juice bar, make sure the juices being served are pasteurized. Unpasteurized products have been linked to Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria — all can lead to death.
5. Moldy Peanuts: Aflatoxins are by-products of common, naturally occurring mold growth on certain agricultural products such as peanuts, wheat, cereals and corn. Alfatoxins have been found to cause liver cancer in animal species. Check carefully for any sign of discoloration or mold.
6. Raw or undercooked shellfish: Shellfish, such as clams and oysters must be cooked thoroughly. Any animal protein consumed raw or undercooked has an increased potential for causing illness.
7. Swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advise young children, women who are planning to become pregnant and pregnant or nursing women not to eat these fish. Swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish have much higher levels of methyl mercury than other commonly consumed fish. Mercury is most harmful to the developing brains of unborn children and young children, affecting cognitive, motor and sensory functions.
8. Caesar salad: Many restaurant or homemade recipes call for raw eggs in Caesar salad. Always ask if the salad dressing contains raw eggs.
9. Wild mushrooms: Portabella and shiitake lovers have no reason to worry. Just don’t go scavenging in your backyard. Only eat mushrooms you’ve purchased in the grocery store. A few common species of mushrooms are poisonous … deadly poisonous.
10. Raw homemade cookie dough. We’re not talking about the prepackaged kind that many of us prefer to nibble on straight from the tube or tub. We’re talking about homemade batter that’s made with eggs. Raw eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella, a food-borne illness that can prove fatal if untreated.
11. Rare hamburger. Hamburger and other ground meat should be cooked to at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent E. coli. Always use a food thermometer to ensure you’ve cooked the beef to a safe temperature.
12. Turkey and stuffing. Cooking stuffing in a turkey or chicken is a major no-no. The bird cooks both from the outside and the inside. When you stuff the bird, it reduces the heat penetration. Your best bet is to cook the turkey and stuffing separately. If you do choose to cook them together, make sure the temperature reaches at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the innermost part of the thigh while the center of the stuffing inside the turkey reaches 165 degrees. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that hasn’t reached that temperature.
13. Shakes and eggs. A popular favorite these days is protein shakes. Unfortunately, they can do more harm than good when raw eggs are added to the mix. Once again you’re putting yourself at risk for Salmonella when you consume raw eggs. Also, beware of sunny side up or runny eggs. The rule of thumb is to cook the egg until both the yolk and the white are firm.
Debra Holtzman, JD, MA, has a master’s degree in Occupational Health and Safety and is an attorney. She has nearly two decades of experience in the safety and health fields. Debra is the safety expert on the Discovery Health Channel’s TV show “Make Room for Baby.”