The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says, “While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, the Federal government estimates that there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness annually–the equivalent of sickening 1 in 6 Americans each year. And each year these illnesses result in an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.” Our recent experience here in Asheville with ingredients acquired from out-of-state once again highlights the importance of national standards and enforcement of health and safety laws– the primary mission of the FDA – to protect everyone’s health.
Of course we all need to remember what our mom told us, “Wash your hands!” Or if you prefer, “Lávense las manos!” In any language, study after study has shown handwashing to be one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has an entire website on it, with far more information than even your mom ever thought of.
Work with food? If you do, you know about all the health department requirements. Think about why they are there. If they were not, would your kitchen still do them? Most of our local laws come from federal recommendations. You can find everything imaginable about food safety at, well where else? Foodsafety.gov, of course. For a more family, home, and kid-friendly presentation, there is fightbac.org from the Partnership for Food Safety Education, which is a who’s who of industry and government science guys. If you have young ‘uns, they will love some of the games.
What little guide to protecting yourself would be complete these days without some midnight reading material? So, here you go, from the FDA, The new, improved, 2nd edition of The Bad Bug Book, or Handbook of Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins. At 262 pages, some may question the handbook part, but it really is only a smidgen of the available literature on bad bugs.
Don’t need that much in-depth information? Well, okay then. The FDA is back again, this time with a little chart called “What you need to know about foodborne illness-causing organisms in the U.S.” That comes from the more general Food Facts for Consumers page, which if you click over there, you will see has information on everything from allergies to zebra meat. (okay, maybe not zebra meat, but hey, it could be in there)
Bringing it all back to Asheville’s recent outbreak of Salmonellosis – which investigators have now traced to mail order ingredients from a firm in Maryland – what is it? The CDC says, “Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. Salmonella germs have been known to cause illness for over 100 years. They were discovered by an American scientist named Salmon, for whom they are named.” Quite the honor. Most people recover without treatment. Children, (again the hand washing thing, above) those with immune system issues, and the infirm elderly are more likely to need medical help.
If you, or someone you know, have diarrhea along with fever and abdominal cramps for more than a couple of days, you may be infected with salmonellosis. Keep in mind you did not have to eat the original food to be exposed (again with the hand washing thing, above) as it can spread person to person.
In short, keep calm and don’t panic. Educate yourself and your loved ones. And wash your hands. Often.