Food contamination is an ever present risk that we all must remain conscious of when we are both preparing food at home and dining out. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, over 2 million people die every year after contracting a food related illness. Of this number, the majority are younger children who have underdeveloped immune systems. In the United States, two of the biggest contributors to food poisoning over the past decade have been soft cheese and produce, like tomatoes. Those who are most at risk include children, immune compromised individuals, and the elderly; however, everyone should be aware of food safety, especially when preparing food for others to eat. There are nine common food illnesses that present a constant concern: Botulism, Campylobacter, E. coli, Listeria, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease), Norovirus, Ptomaine poisoning, Salmonella, Staph, and Trichinosis.
One of the most common ways that people contract food related illnesses, like E. coli and Staph, is through the improper handling of perishable foods. Once perishable items are allowed to reach temperatures between 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit they are at a higher risk of transmitting food borne pathogens to those that consume them. Fortunately, good hygiene, like frequent hand washing, and proper food storage protocol drastically reduces the rate of food borne illnesses in restaurant settings. Busy restaurants in particular face a myriad of challenges when it comes to monitoring perishable food storage and handling.
Because of the challenges, all restaurants are required to pass safety inspections, as well as distribute educational material about the proper way to handle food from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration so that their employees understand how to minimize the risk of food borne pathogens. There are different ways to handle each type of meal, and the protocol varies from no-cook dishes to those with complex recipes and preparation. In addition to pathogens, it's also imperative that all restaurant personnel have a working knowledge of food allergies and the inherent risk of cross contamination; food allergy related deaths are also a contributing factor in restaurant deaths.
Although many bacterial food borne illnesses present symptoms closely after exposure, like Salmonella, there are some which don't surface for a week or more after eating the contaminated food, like Trichinosis. This is one of the primary reasons why it's very important to be aware of the common symptoms of food poisoning. These symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and fever; however, it's also worth noting that some food related diseases can pose life long illness, like cancer. The best way to stay safe is to educate oneself, and if working at a restaurant, ensuring that all employees strictly follow safe food handling.
Safe Food Handling
Safe Food Storage
Food Borne Illness Prevention