U.S. food poisoning cases don’t appear to be lessening anytime soon, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released April 25.
The frequency of several types of food poisoning infections climbed last year. The increases might be attributed to new diagnostic tools that help identify more cases.
The director of the agency said that more needs to be done to make food safer. Two of the most common causes of infection have been longtime problems in the United States food supply.
Salmonella—one of the two—can come from vegetables, eggs, chicken, beef, and pork.
The other germ—campylobacter—is commonly tied to chicken. Officials can’t find a source for outbreaks of campylobacter because fingerprinting of the bacteria shows varying strains, therefore it goes underreported. “For some reason, campylobacter is making people sick with lots of different fingerprints,” according to the CDC director.
It’s a Fecal Matter
Both bacteria are spread through animal feces. That means foods get contaminated with these bacteria because fecal matter has come in contact with the foods, either through improper handling of animal carcasses or improper hand washing.
Monitoring was done in ten states for the report. However, the CDC considers this suitable enough to create a report on trends.
Since the U.S. government began publishing test results for individual plants, salmonella rates have gone down in raw whole carcasses, according to the Associated Press Health and Science Department.
Yet, last year, 22 percent of production plants did not meet CDC standards for limiting salmonella in chicken parts. The USDA said in a statement that it’s working to improve its approach to fighting bacteria.
Of special note, despite these efforts, salmonella and campylobacter are allowed in raw poultry sold in supermarkets, said Tony Corbo of Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group that supports stricter food safety regulations.
“There is very little the USDA can do besides posting the report card on salmonella,” he said.
The CDC has a few safety guidelines to follow to prevent food poisoning. It involves four easy steps. Clean, separate, cook, and chill.
Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces often. Wash hands for at least twenty seconds with soap and water before, during and after preparing food, and before eating. Wash utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water. Finally, rinse fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water, and be sure to clean between crevices.
Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Foods such as raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat food such as salads and raw fruits. So keep them separate and use cutting boards designed for each. One for red meat, one for poultry, one for fruits and vegetables, and one for seafood.
Keep these types of foods separate in the grocery cart, and in your fridge. If juices drip, wash that immediately and wash anything that it could have touched.
Cook to Well Done: It is risky to eat raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Cooking kills germs. Cooking medium rare kills some of the germs. Cooking medium well kills many of the germs, and cooking well done kills most or nearly all of the germs. Choose wisely. When in doubt, use a food thermometer and look up the CDC guideline for internal temperatures for well done and safe food.
Chill: Low temperatures keep bacterial growth numbers down. Keep your refrigerator below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Throw out spoiled or highly suspect foods. Don’t always go by the “sell by” date. Sometimes this is effective and sometimes not.
Put perishable food in the fridge within 2 hours. If outdoors in warmer temperatures, within 1 hour. Use an cooler with ice when possible.
Learn to thaw frozen foods properly. Simply letting it warm up to room temperature is not safe as it allows bacteria to multiply quickly. Either thawing in the refrigerator or in cold water works best.
Do not eat food that has been left out for hours. Refrigerate cooked leftovers as soon as possible. When possible, put hot foods in the refrigerator to cool and chill as soon as possible. Allowing it to reach room temperature will allow bacteria to grow quickly.
The Associated Press assisted with this report.