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Think you'd be able to tell if the food in your home posed a hazard to your health? Think again. Even if food looks and smells fine, it may still harbor bacteria, parasites, roundworms and more. (Read about "Microorganisms")
How big a problem is this? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that foodborne infections cause 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,200 deaths in the United States each year. Foodborne infections - including E. coli infection, Salmonella infection, cryptosporidiosis, campylobacteriosis, shigellosis and listeriosis (Read about "E. coli" "Salmonella" "Cryptosporidiosis" "Campylobacter" "Shigellosis" "Listeriosis") - can lead to an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract called gastroenteritis. (Read about "Gastroenteritis") Symptoms can include diarrhea, cramps and fever. (Read about "Diarrhea") Some foodborne infections can lead to reactive arthritis. (Read about "Reactive Arthritis") Foodborne illnesses can be especially dangerous to young children, seniors, pregnant women, people with liver disease and people with weakened immune systems. (Read about "Healthy Pregnancy" "The Liver" "The Immune System")
But there are ways to safeguard yourself and your family against this problem. Some suggestions from the International Food Information Council include:
Cooking food thoroughly is important too. For example, the American Dietetic Association suggests using a food thermometer to make sure meats are cooked to the proper temperature all the way through to the middle. Rare or even medium-rare won't protect you from foodborne illness, such as trichinosis and toxoplasmosis. (Read about "Trichinosis" "Toxoplasmosis")
When serving food buffet-style, remember to maintain the proper temperature of the food. Use a warming tray or chafing dish for hot foods, for example; or keep a serving dish of cold food over a large bowl of crushed ice. If serving special foods during holidays, such as a whole turkey, follow the cooking and temperature directions carefully. (Read about "Healthy Holidays")
The cold temperature of a refrigerator slows bacteria growth, so after meals, it's also important to refrigerate leftovers promptly. Other suggestions from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
Public health officials advise consumers to refrigerate foods quickly because cold temperatures keep most harmful bacteria from growing and multiplying. Refrigerators should be set at 40 degrees F and the freezer at 0 degrees F, and the accuracy of the settings should be checked occasionally with a thermometer.
It's also a good idea to date leftovers. The FDA says that, in general, foods can be safely refrigerated for three to five days after cooking. By putting a date on your leftovers, you can more easily tell when they've gone beyond this point.
Although children and the elderly are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses, food poisoning can be serious at any age. Taking the right precautions when preparing, serving and storing foods is good advice for everyone.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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