What Is Foodborne Illness?

Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, is an infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that is caused by consuming a food or beverage contaminated with harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, or chemicals. Typical symptoms will include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and chills. According to StopFoodborneIllness.org, an estimated 48 million people in the United States experience a foodborne illness each year. In addition, foodborne illnesses cause 128, 000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths in the United States annually.

Preventing Foodborne Illness

As stated by the United States Department of Agriculture, preventing foodborne illness remains a major public health challenge. The summer months can be the most difficult time to prevent foodborne illnesses because everyone is eating more of their meals outside, whether it’s camping, potlucks, barbecue’s, or picnics. This means food may not always be cooked properly, may be exposed to more bacteria, or may not be stored properly. To help make sure you stay healthy and safe, here are tips from USDA to prevent foodborne illness!

  • Clean: Throughly wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling any single food item and disinfect surfaces often.
  • Separate: Do not cross-contaminate and never use the same platter and utensils that touched the raw product to serve the cooked product.
  • Cook: Be sure to cook all food to the proper temperatures. The best way to know for sure that a product is fully cooked, is to purchase a food thermometer. Just make sure to clean the thermometer after each use.
  • Chill: While cooking, place any leftover ingredients in the refrigerator promptly. After eating a meal, make sure to seal leftover food securely and then place in the refrigerator immediately.

When To See a Doctor

Most foodborne illnesses happen suddenly and only last a short time. In most cases, you can recover on your own without treatment, but occasionally, foodborne illness may lead to more serious complications that require a doctor’s visit. Dr. Anita Bennett MD, a Health Tip Content Editor at eDocAmerica, you should see a doctor when:

  • You have a fever of 102 degrees F or higher.
  • There is blood in your bowel movements.
  • You are showing signs of severe dehydration (marked decrease in urination, very dark urine, feeling dizzy when standing, extremely dry mouth and throat)
  • You have diarrhea which lasts for more than 3 days.

While not a fun topic, foodborne illness can be very serious and it is important to take precautions! For more information about foodborne illness, ways to prevent it, and for printable informational flyers, visit StopFoodborneIllness.org.

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