We all know that consuming foods past their expiration dates is risky. But did you know how potentially dangerous food-related illness can be? A study in the March issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases estimated that from 1998 to 2008 1,451 people have died in outbreaks of food borne illness. 28.7% of deaths were caused by meat and poultry, 14.5% were caused by dairy products/eggs and 16.4% percent of deaths were caused by vegetables. In addition, during this time period more than half of all food borne illnesses were caused by plant foods, which made more than 4.9 million people sick.
Harmful bacteria are the most common cause of food poisoning, but other causes include viruses, parasites, toxins and contaminants. The organisms that cause the most deaths, hospitalizations and illnesses in the United States are salmonella, norovirus, campylobacter, toxoplasma, e. coli, listeria and clostridium.
The symptoms of food poisoning typically go away in one to two days, although some symptoms may last for up to ten days. Severe symptoms, such as a high fever (101.5 degrees or more), dehydration and/or diarrhea lasting more than three days should not be ignored – contact a health care provider immediately.
To protect yourself from food borne illnesses, try some of the following tips:
•Cook eggs, meat (to 160F), and poultry thoroughly;
•Avoid cross-contamination by keeping raw eggs, meats, and poultry away from other foods and containers;
•Refrigerating any uneaten foods immediately;
•Wash fruits and vegetables well;
•Be picky about choosing a restaurant; avoid restaurants with poor inspection grades.
List adapted from Food borne Illness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.