Each year, millions of people in the United States get sick from contaminated food. Symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.
Cross-contamination, the transfer of harmful bacterial organisms from one surface to another, is a common cause of food poisoning. Due to this fact, a myriad ways of contracting food poisoning exist. Additionally, food can become contaminated “at any point in its production, during growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping, or preparing.”
Despite these and other variables, certain foods are more frequently cited as catalysts of foodborne illness than others. These common-cited foods vary in nature—raw and cooked; washed and unwashed; fresh and frozen; packaged and non-packaged; processed and organic, and so on.
This article examines the three types of foods that account for the majority of cases of foodborne illness.
Meat foods include many types, including beef, lamb, pork, rabbit, and goat.
Undercooked (or raw) meat is vulnerable to certain types of parasites and bacteria, such as Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella. In most instances, thoroughly cooking meat can destroy these and other bacteria, although meat can still become contaminated through mishandling and improper storage.
The juices from undercooked or raw meat are a common source of cross-contamination. Because of this, it’s a good idea to prepare meat and other food types, including fruits, vegetables, poultry, and eggs, on separate surfaces and store them in different containers.
Dairy products include raw milk and raw milk products, like cheeses and ice cream.
Although a less common source of food poisoning than meat, poultry, produce, and dairy products can also cause foodborne illness, especially if they are unpasteurized or “raw.” Unpasteurized dairy products carry an increased risk of harmful microorganisms such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria, as typical pasteurization methods effectively kill them.
It is important to refrigerate dairy products and to only consume them within their recommended time windows. Eating expired dairy products can invite the aforementioned strains of foodborne illness and food poisoning.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Juices
The commercialization of produce has led to rising numbers of food-poisoning cases. Typically, fruit and vegetable crops are prone to cross-contamination from animal bacteria, as farms that grow them commonly raise animals as well. In some cases, bacteria from animal manure can permeate into the soil and water used to grow crops.
Cross-contamination of fruits and vegetables also commonly occurs during meal preparation. Food prepared on unclean surfaces can result in the absorption of bacteria from meat, poultry, and eggs. As such, it is crucial to separate preparatory surfaces according to food type. Fruits and vegetables, particularly raw ones, should be thoroughly cleaned prior to consumption.
Poultry includes chicken, duck, goose, emu, ostrich, rhea, and other game birds.
Consuming undercooked or unwashed poultry is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. The Campylobacter bacterium, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), results in approximately 845,000 causes of food poisoning each year. Commonly found is chicken, this type of food poisoning is the result of livestock coming into contact with animal feces.
Chicken is perhaps the most common source of food poisoning. Not only is chicken a widely popular dish, but it also can become contaminated in numerous ways, including cross-contamination, inadequate cooking temperature or time, improper storage temperature, and consumption past the “sell by” date. However, proper handling and preparation of poultry drastically reduces the probability of contracting foodborne illness.
Most cases of food poisoning can be prevented with proper handling and preparation. Commonsense food-safety practices, such as thoroughly washing hands and food, separating preparation surfaces (such as cutting boards), cooking to adequate temperatures, storing in separate containers, and consuming food before its expiration or “sell by” date, can significantly reduce the chances of contracting foodborne illness.