It’s almost like clockwork. Once a week, there is a report about tainted food. It may be listeria in your cantaloupe or salmonella in your ground turkey. What do these terms mean?
These are food born illnesses. Listeria is a bacterium. Most of the time, it’s not even noticed by the person who has it. It can cause diarrhea, nausea, muscle aches and a fever, but it’s usually not serious.
However, if you have any immune problems, it can be deadly. Pregnant women, fetuses and newborns are especially vulnerable. So are AIDS patients, those with cancer and anyone with a suppressed immune system.
e. Coli: You probably have some of this in your intestines even as you read this. The various bacteria in this family can be beneficial. However, there are a few strains that are not. Certain serotypes can cause food poisoning, and it can be bad enough to kill you.
Many of the symptoms are similar to that of listeria. Add to those symptoms severe abdominal cramps and fatigue. These can strike anyone, not just those with weakened immune systems.
Salmonella: This is the most common type of food poisoning. There are over 2300 serotypes, and all of them can cause diarrhea. Sometimes the diarrhea is bloody. Chills, headache, nausea and vomiting may also occur. Most of the time, it clears up after a few days. Unfortunately, a small number of victims can develop severe joint pain. This can lead to arthritis.
There are other things that can taint our food and water supply, but these are the ones most in the news. Right now, we’ve got a listeria outbreak from tainted cantaloupe and a major recall of ground turkey because of salmonella. Mexican papayas are banned also, due to fears of salmonella. France and Germany are dealing with an e. coli outbreak from tainted seeds.
How do we know if our food is safe? Usually, it is. There are a lot of laws and a lot of inspections that take place. Many recalls happen before anyone has been reported ill, because there *might* be something in the product.
There are things you can do at home to protect your family. Cooking meat and eggs thoroughly can kill off most bacteria. Washing fruits and vegetables before consuming them is another safety step. Don’t leave food out, especially meat. When you’re done eating, the leftovers should be handled immediately.
Another hazard that is common in the everyday kitchen is cross contamination. Here is an example of how it works: You debone some chicken breast and throw them in your pressure cooker (or stock pot). Then, you pick up the pan, take it to the sink and add water. Oops, you’ve just contaminated the outside of the pan and your faucet.
At this point, most of us would wash our hands, though not always. Next, you pick up the chicken breast, grab a cutting board and a knife. After slicing it up, you set aside for the next step in preparing your dinner.
I could go on, but you can see what I’m trying to illustrate. Hand washing after each step is hard on the hands, but better for your family. It’s easy to forget to do this; most of us are trying to do four other things while we’re making dinner, and it can mean chicken yuck is all over the kitchen before dinner is served.
Keeping our food supply safe isn’t just the responsibility of the government, though they do play a large and important role. It’s also our responsibility once we get the food home. Some outbreaks can’t be stopped, but most of them can with work by all of us.