Don't Underestimate The Foodborne Illness Threat

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If you pay attention to this blog, you’ll know that we often bring you information related to product recalls issued because of worries about the threat of foodborne illness.  If you’re a relatively healthy individual, you might think that such concerns are exaggerated, that after a day of feeling bad you’ll be able to bounce back and go on with your life.

The truth is, though, that foodborne illness can have long-lasting repercussions, especially for persons in certain susceptible demographics.  The Food and Drug Administration has released a new report taking a look at why older persons, younger children, pregnant women, and individuals with compromised immune systems are more at risk when they come into contact with something like Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes.

The threat stems from problems with the immune system itself in these at-risk demographics.  When immune systems are unable to fight off foreign contaminants, foodborne illnesses can linger long after they would otherwise be ejected by completely healthy persons.  Persons suffering from things like cancer or AIDS have their immune systems weakened by the disease and certain treatments like chemo, and older persons who take medications can see a reduction in the level of stomach acid in their bodies, a situation which further endangers the immune system.

When it comes to young kids, their immune systems have not yet developed to a point where they can safely expel the foodborne illness quickly.  An epidemiologist with the FDA explains that the threat to pregnant women derives from alterations to the immune system which also increase susceptibility to an infection.  This can compromise the mother and the child alike.

Although the FDA does what it can to prevent contaminated foods and drugs from ever making their way to the marketplace, there are also ways that you can protect yourself from the threat of a foodborne illness.

For instance, you should stay away from foods that are raw or nearly raw.  Unpasteurized milk and the products derived from such could pose a greater threat, as could things like raw eggs and sushi and tartare products.  When you go to a restaurant, you might ask the wait staff about the nature of the ingredients used in any dish you’re about to order.  If any ingredient is raw, you should order something else.

When you’re preparing your own food at home, practice safe cooking practices.  Thoroughly clean any surface that food is going to make contact with during preparation, and wash things like fruits and vegetables before you serve them.  Don’t leave food out for too long, and stay away from deli meats and prepared salads that may have been sitting out for some time.  Finally, make sure your freezer is set to less than 0 degrees and your fridge clocks in below 40.