Sunday 06 December 2009, 22:00

How to prevent foodborne illness

Some simple tips to protect yourself from foodborne illness

How to prevent foodborne illness

Foodborne illness usually results from consuming food or water contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, viruses, toxins and, less commonly, chemicals. Although the occurrence of single cases is relatively high, the total impact of foodborne illness is likely underestimated because many cases are not reported.


Common sources of foodborne illness are vegetables, dairy products, meat, poultry and fish, while the most common causes are bacteria (e.g. Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella and Listeria), viruses (e.g. noroviruses, rotavirus and hepatitis A virus) and toxins (such as toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus and Clostridium perfringens).


In healthy people symptoms are often mild, flu-like and non-specific and many cases of foodborne illness go undetected. However people with weak immune system (infants, elderly, pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals) are particularly at risk of developing serious symptoms and severe, even like-threatening, consequences. Symptoms may include diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever and dehydration. They can take a few hours to a few days to develop and may last for a few days.


Personal hygiene and food hygiene and safety (including food handling and temperature control) are the most effective means to prevent foodborne illness.


Personal hygiene measures include, amongst others, washing hands thoroughly using soap and running water before eating or preparing food. Washing hands is particularly important after using the toilet, blowing the nose, coughing or sneezing into hands and after touching waste or the bin. 


Foods should not be stored at incorrect temperatures known as the “temperature danger zone” (above 5 °C and below 60 °C), in order to prevent the multiplication of bacteria that cause foodborne illness. Therefore refrigerators should be kept below 5 °C and hot foods should be kept above 60 °C.


Finally, washing raw fruit and vegetables, cooking meat, poultry, eggs and seafood thoroughly and at a safe temperature, throwing away food that smells spoiled or has passed its “use by” date are other important preventive measures.


By Chiara De Carli

Category: Nutrition

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