Summer is the time for picnics, barbecues and outdoor cooking. Unfortunately, it is also a time when more people fall ill from food poisoning due to warm temperatures and unsafe storing and handling of perishable foods. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some foodborne illnesses have increased by 75 percent since the agency conducted its last survey less than a decade ago.
The CDC estimates that every year about one in six Americans (or 48 million) get sick from eating spoiled food items; 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from food-related diseases. Children and the elderly are most vulnerable.
While the number of salmonella cases, the most common foodborne illness, has actually slightly dropped in recent years, vibrio infections or vibriosis from uncooked seafood like raw oysters and sushi have become much more widespread, possibly due to the growing popularity of these fares.
Attributing any illness to certain foods is complicated, experts say, simply because there are thousands of different edibles we consume in many varieties and combinations even in a single meal. Therefore, in most cases, it is difficult if not impossible to identify what particular food is responsible for someone to get sick, says the CDC.
However, individual food items can be categorized in different groups, which can help investigate the origins of outbreaks, alert consumers, and draft better food safety regulations, according to the agency. For this, it has developed a list of 17 categories, also called commodities, based on the nature of the food source in question. In every outbreak analysis, scientists try to determine in hierarchical order whether the source came from livestock or livestock products, seafood, or plant-foods.
The best approach to limiting food poisoning occurrences, of course, is prevention through careful storage and handling. The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that people thoroughly wash their hands before and after touching food, especially raw animal products like meat, fish, and poultry. The same goes for the utensils and cooking ware that are used to prepare them.
Proper refrigeration of perishable foods – such as all uncooked or undercooked meat and seafood as well as eggs and dairy products – is equally as important. Leaving these items exposed to warm temperatures for too long, whether on route from the grocery store or during preparations, can cause spoilage that may not be immediately noticeable but can still have negative consequences. Experts recommend never to consume foods you are not certain about in terms of freshness or time of expiration. Do not hesitate to discard anything that looks or smells suspicious, or you know has been stored unsafely. Your and your loved ones wellbeing is not worth the risk.