Food borne illness…two words that make my heart race! I am terrified of food borne bacteria (i.e. salmonella, listeria, e.coli , etc.)—legit, terrified! When I was 14 weeks pregnant, I had gone out of town for a girls weekend with one of my best friends. As we were getting ready for breakfast one morning, I felt a strong bout of nausea creep in. I didn’t think much of it though, because I had been feeling nauseous for 14 weeks straight. The nausea got stronger and before I knew it, I was face down in the toilet throwing up.
After a few rounds of this, I thought maybe getting some food in my stomach would help. Boy ,was I wrong! We left the restaurant, and to others, I’m sure that I looked like I had one too many drinks Saturday night, as I was seen throwing up in multiple bushes alongside the sidewalks of the downtown area. We said our goodbyes and I hopped in my car for the 3.5 hour trek home. I didn’t make it five miles down the interstate before I was pulling over to throw up. I was feeling weak, my vision began to get blurry, and pressing the gas felt like pushing 50 pounds of weight. Continuing to drive was becoming unsafe, very quickly.
I happened to see a blue sign signaling a nearby hospital and decided to follow it because I knew I needed help. I pulled up in the hospital parking lot and reclined my chair; I thought maybe I could rest and I would start feeling better. I was wrong AGAIN. After throwing up in the parking lot and barely able to lift my head without struggling, I decided that it was time to drag myself into the ER. As I was being admitted, I remember feeling so weak and so scared. All sorts of thoughts were going through my head and one fear consumed my heart—“is the baby okay?”
After all of my vitals were taken, I was placed into a hospital bed and hooked up to an IV. Once I regained strength and clarity of mind, I texted my best friend and my husband to let them know what was happening. (Shout out to my best friend who was about 20 miles from home when she received my text and turned right around to come to my bedside and comfort me through such a scary situation–I love you!)
Fast forward to the next day when I went to see my OBGYN. She stated that I probably had some sort of Norovirus that caused me to become so sick and to take it easy for a few days before returning to work. Well, an anxious mind can only be distracted with so much TV, before the danger of an idle mind takes over. I started searching on the internet and began learning all about food borne illnesses and ever since that day, I have never been the same. My attention to safe food handling and preparation is at an all time high because of my newfound knowledge and it is my hope to:
1) increase awareness about food safety and highlight how we can all take additional measures to increase the safety of our food in order to prevent sickness and even save lives (yes, its absolutely horrific to think that certain food borne bacteria can be fatal to unborn babies, newborns and infants, and those who are immunocompromised)
2) prevent anyone from becoming as sick as I was from eating a contaminated food product. Ugh, it was awful!
Protecting ourselves from food borne illnesses
- Practice and prioritize safe food handling and preparation. Food safety basics, such as never using the same knife to cut vegetables that were used to cut raw meat; always using different cutting boards for vegetables and raw meat; and to wash your hands before and after handling food are safe practices.
- Purchase an instant read thermometer and use it for EVERYTHING, including foods that have been precooked such as breakfast sausage and frozen meals, and even leftovers. All frozen foods and leftovers should be warmed to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees to ensure safe consumption. Remember the recall of Amy’s Organic frozen meals in 2015, and the recall of select frozen vegetables that happened in 2016, both for concerns over Listeria contamination? These are definitely not items that appear on the “high risk” list of foods that harbor bacteria, but it happens and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- Always wash fresh produce really well, even items that you wouldn’t think needed to be washed, such as avocados, oranges, watermelon, cantaloupe, etc.. If you do not wash these items prior to cutting them, you could transfer bacteria from the outside of the fruit to the vulnerable inside of the fruit from the knife you used to cut it. The deadliest food borne illness outbreak since 1924 was in 2011 from cantaloupe that was contaminated with Listeria, leaving around three dozen people dead and more than 125 people becoming ill.
- Do not wash your fruit in the plastic container or bag it came in. Transfer the fruit that you’re eating at that serving into a colander and wash well.
- Always use a food thermometer to check the temperature of meats. Don’t rely on the good ole “well if it isn’t pink in the middle” or “if the juices run out white” it’s cooked methodology. Ground beef, one of the dirtiest types of meats consumed, can look fully cooked, when in fact it isn’t. Always double check the internal temperature with a food thermometer. As advised by the United States Department of Agriculture, “cook food until the thermometer shows an internal temperature of 160 °F for hamburger, pork, and egg dishes; 145 °F for beef, veal, and lamb steaks and roasts; and 165 °F for all poultry” (United States Department of Agriculture, 2017).
- Once you clean a dish that had raw meat on it, do not use the same sponge on any other dish. Throw it away. Sponges can easily harbor and transmit bacteria.
- Discard food that has been sitting out for “more than two hours, or over an hour if the temperature is over 90 degrees” (United States Department of Agriculture, 2017). This especially goes for those made with cold ingredients such as slaws and pasta salads that are frequently served at cookouts. If colder items are being served, they should be stored on a bed of ice to keep the contents cold.
- Do not eat leftovers more than three to four days old.
- Always put raw meat purchased from the store in a plastic bag (generally provided in the meat department) and do not bag it with other groceries, this helps prevents cross-contamination.
- Do not consume food after it’s “sell by” or “use by” dates.
- Use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces, instead of dish towels. If you use dishtowels, wash them in hot water separately from other laundry items.
- Wash your food thermometer after each use. If you check the temperature of the food and it has not yet reached the correct temperature, wash your food thermometer before placing it back in the food to recheck the temperature.
- Never wash raw meat under water before preparing, as the juices can splatter and contaminate other surfaces and utensils.
- Stay up-to-date on the safety of your foods by subscribing to foodsafety.gov recall alerts, https://www.foodsafety.gov/recalls/alerts/
For additional information and a surplus of helpful fact sheets, please visit https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling
Here is a great resource to learn more about common foodborne bacteria, Foodsafety.gov
I truly believe that we can all benefit from safer food handling and preparation. Knowledge is power! Happy and safe eating!