Fighting Foodborne Illness

- October 17, 2012

"The World Health Organization estimates that 2.2 million people die every year around the world from unsafe food"

The news was frightening this week. The origins of an outbreak of salmonella poisoning was traced to a New Mexico food company that manufactured the raw and roasted peanuts that caused the outbreak.

Sunland's peanut butter was sold by Trader Joe's and linked to 35 illnesses across 19 states. But the list has expanded to 76 products including ice cream, candy and a peanut butter spread found in Starbucks bistro boxes. Hines roasted peanuts have also been recalled. Stores participating in the recall include Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Target.

Just in this month alone, a Texas company has recalled 8,200 pounds of beef and pork products that had been released without passing federal inspection. A Canadian company had to recall its bagged salad for possible salmonella contamination.  A California company recalled 1,800 jars of crushed roasted pepper out of fear that it had been contaminated with salmonella. And in Vancouver, Washington, a restaurant was closed after a salmonella outbreak affected up to 77 people.

Last month, a Canadian company recalled ground beef products that had been sold to U.S. processors and contaminated by salmonella. Costco had to recall a smoked salmon product that contained potentially contained salmonella.

And all of this in just one-and-a-half months!

Food poisoning has become way too common in recent years.  The World Health Organization estimates that 2.2 million people die every year around the world from unsafe food, and 1.9 million of them are children.

Roughly one in six Americans, or 48 million people, get sick each year, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

These outbreaks often result in individual and class-action lawsuits. For instance, that company that produced red pepper that was tainted with salmonella had to pay $33 million to a salami maker who used the pepper to spice his meat. A family that became sick after eating cantaloupe contaminated with salmonella sued Wal-Mart for selling the product.

While foodborne diseases are common, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Use good hygiene in the kitchen. Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before cooking, wash cutting boards and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before moving on to the next ingredient.

Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables and remove all dirt and grime as well as the outermost leaves of lettuce or cabbage. Don't leave cut produce out at room temperature for a long time.

Cook meat, poultry and eggs thoroughly and use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature so you can be sure that it's cooked enough to kill bacteria.

Refrigerate leftovers promptly so bacteria doesn't grow at room temperature. 

Report any suspected foodborne illnesses to the city health department.

Here's a great resource for news about foot recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks.