Food Borne Illnesses
There are thousands of viruses and pathogens and millions of bacteria swarming in, on and around us at all times. E. Coli, as a matter of fact, is a natural and necessary inhabitant of the intestines of nearly all animals, including people. Don’t want to deal with it? Get yourself a big plastic bubble and a sleeping bag. Otherwise, just accept the fact that we’re surrounded by bacteria, most of which we will never need to worry about, and get on with your life.
The Bad News
The bad bugs are out there. You’ve probably already run into them. There’s no such thing as a “24 hour stomach flu,” so that long night you spent endlessly counting your bathroom floor tiles was probably food poisoning of one sort or another. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that there are between 76 and 81 million cases of food poisoning each year, the vast majority of which go unreported because they didn’t require a trip to the hospital or doctor’s office.
Food borne illnesses kill between 5,000 and 9,000 people each year, mostly the very young, the very old and those with compromised immune systems. If you are cooking for someone who falls into this category, you need to take extra precautions to prevent cross contamination in your kitchen. Most people suffer mild to severe diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain and get well on their own in about a week. About 325,000 cases are serious enough to require hospitalization.
And the Really Bad News . . .
Somewhere between 80 and 90 percent of food poisoning incidents can be traced to food prepared and eaten at home.
Wash Your Hands
Common kitchen pathogens include Salmonella, Campylobacter jejuni and the ever popular E. Coli, along with a whole host of other bacteria, viruses, molds, fungi and parasites. While E. Coli O157:H7 gets a lot of press, campylobacter is by far the most common source of food poisoning.
Today’s factory farmed chickens, tasty as they might be, are inbred mutants with more recessive genes than the royal family.
Hand washing is the best preventative. Eighty percent of all pathogens are spread through hand contact. Every 60 seconds a working adult touches as many as 30 objects. The number of people who say they don’t wash their hands or cutting boards after cutting raw meat or chicken has dropped to 15 percent in recent years. Those are the mouth-breathers who admit it. Videotaped studies of kitchen habits show that the real number is about 30 percent. That is just scary. Knowing how to minimize cross contamination is vital. Hands, sinks, sponges and cutting boards are prime bacteria delivery systems. Sinks and sponges are the worst offenders. Cutting boards, because they come in contact with a variety of foods during a single meal preparation, have got to be kept clean to avoid transferring pathogens from one food item to the next. That’s why you need one board that is just for meats, fish and poultry. A recent report found that 80 percent of all grocery store chickens in the U.S. are contaminated with Salmonella, Campylobacter or both. You don’t want that in your salad or on your strawberry shortcake.
“But,” you say, “my grandmother/mother/aunt used the same cutting board forever and never gave it anything more than a quick wipedown. We never got sick.” Maybe. Times are different now. Your grandmother’s fish and chicken came from a neighbor or the next county over. Even grocery stores were stocked with relatively local ingredients farmed on a moderate scale. Today’s factory farmed chickens, tasty as they might be, are inbred mutants with more recessive genes than the royal family. Your leafy greens were picked under conditions that in no way resemble those in your grandmother’s garden. Wash your hands. And your cutting board.