Health

Foodborne Illnesses Throughout History Nobody Wanted

Over a dozen people died from listeria linked to hot dogs. Between 1998 and 1999, an outbreak of listeria affected at least 100 people across 24… Trista - September 15, 2021
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Over a dozen people died from listeria linked to hot dogs.

Between 1998 and 1999, an outbreak of listeria affected at least 100 people across 24 states. Not only were dozens and dozens of people sick, but 14 victims died from the outbreak. Plus, another four pregnant women had miscarriage as a result. What caused it? Authorities were able to trace the outbreak back to tainted hot dogs. This contamination had affected over nine different brands, including the popular known Sara Lee Deli Meat. The outbreak spread from a manufacturing plant in Zeeland, Michigan, known as Bil Mar Foods.

It is a tragedy when people die so unexpectedly. They sit down to have a decent meal with friends and family. It could a beach day, or birthday party. Then a random hot dog sends them to the grave. Not from chocking on it, either. Even after cooking contaminated meat, the infection can still spread. They were unaware that would be their last meal. The moral of the story is to always cherish people when they are still around, and don’t eat hot dogs.

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Do you remember this major outbreak of listeria?

In 2002, there was a widespread outbreak of listeria in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Michigan, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. What was the culprit? Turkey deli meat from Pilgrim’s Pride. Seven people died from this outbreak, and another three expecting mothers had stillbirths. It turns out that the company had to recall 27.4 million pounds of poultry products because of the outbreak. The company probably took a huge hit because of the lost profit, but inquiring minds wonder if they had to pay the victims compensation.

If you think the listeria outbreaks are over by now, you would be wrong. In fact, we haven’t even mentioned the deadliest listeria outbreak yet. Keep reading to learn about what food led to the worst listeria outbreak to date. Also, continue so you can learn how to prevent foodborne illnesses. That way, you and your family can eat in peace.

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Cantaloupes with listeria killed 33 people in 2011.

It seems that Michigan is home of foodborne illnesses. So let’s step outside of those state lines to reveal where the largest listeria outbreak to date came from: Holly, Colorado. It turns out that a packing facility there called Jensen Farms had some deadly cantaloupes. Authorities believe that 33 people died from eating contaminated cantaloupes in 2011. A total of another 147 people got sick from the cantaloupes as well.

They were able to figure out that everyone had came in contact with cantaloupes from that particular facility. If you experience headaches, confusion, or loss of balance after eating, it might be a foodborne illness. Listeria also causes fatigue, muscle aches, fever, and even seizures, so seek help immediately. If do become infected with listeria, you will mostly likely be hospitalized and need antibiotics.

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Pregnant women, please remember to learn about listeria monocytogenes.

People who contract this bacterium are often sick anywhere from a few days to several weeks. A wide variety of foods can spread the bacterium, including raw or unpasteurized milk and dairy. That includes soft cheeses. You also have to watch out for raw veggies, fruits, and meat spreads. Ready-to-eat meals, deli meats, hot dogs, and refrigerated smoked seafood can also produce this deadly toxin. Of course, raw and undercooked meat, seafood, and poultry will continue to be an issue. 

The problem with this bacterium, beyond usual diarrhea, muscle aches, and fever, is that it can lead to severe cases. That is especially true in pregnant women. Miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature deliveries are all results of listeria monocytogenes. Reach out to a doctor right away if you have a stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, headaches, or convulsions. Be mindful that this bacterium lives in temperatures as low as 4 degrees Celcius, making it difficult to spot. 

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E. coli is a common bacteria, but certain strains can make humans sick.

Escherichia coli is the long name for E. coli. It is a gram-negative, rod-shaped, facultative anaerobic bacterium. Theodor Escherich first described this microorganism in such a way. It is important to understand that E. coli usually live in the stomach or intestines of humans and animals. However, humans can get sick when they come in contact with particular types of the bacteria. Symptoms typically arise three to four days after exposure. Signs of E. coli infections include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, and occasional fever. What is different about the strains that cause sickness? They produce a toxin, and when exposed to it, people develop a symptoms, and can even die.

According to the CDC, antibiotics and anti-diarrhea medications can actually increase the risks and complications associated with E. coli. Besides, antibiotics are ineffective on this particular bacterium strain because of the deadly toxin. You will have to rest and drink lots of fluids to overcome the sickness. However, hospitalization may be necessary in severe cases of E. coli.

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Popular fast-food chains often spread E. coli outbreaks.

In 1993, four people in California and Washington died due to E. coli from eating contaminated meat from a popular fast food restaurant known as Jack in the Box. Not only that, but hundreds of other customers across the two states also got sick after eating there. The outbreak caused a national panic, nearly resulting in the end of the fast-food chain across the country. At least the outbreak led to stricter government regulations of food handling everywhere. Even though four people passed away after eating some type of food item from the Jack in the Box menu, it is still open today well into the 2020s.

People often question why the outbreak happened in two different states. However, these states do border each other, and the food products were probably shipped together and disturbed accordingly. Was it bad hamburger meat or an expired lettuce? Something was cross-contaminated and caused the illness, so just be cautious when ordering fast food. You never know how people are really handling your food, even though there are regulations now.

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When eating healthy actually kills you.

Picture this: you are trying to eat healthy. Maybe you want to lose weight or have more energy. Either way, you are reaching for the spinach at the grocery store. You get home and decide to toss some in a healthy, green salad. Perhaps you rinse it under the water really well, but you don’t cook it. All of your healthy effort went out the door if you would have been lumped in the next group. In 2006, a giant E. coli outbreak came from Dole baby spinach.

It all started in September. The FDA linked E. coli infections to uncooked spinach in 26 states. At least 31 people suffered from kidney failure. Another 205 people reported cases of diarrhea and dehydration. Sadly, three others actually died. During the outbreak, Dole recalled its bagged spinach from shelves all across the country. Authorities believe that the contamination may have originated from a cattle ranch that leased land to a spinach farmer.

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Taco Bell was the culprit of a 2006 E. coli outbreak.

Do you ever get the craving for a crappy taco during the drunk hours of the morning? Maybe you just can’t get enough of those nacho fries. Either way, chances are good you ate at Taco Bell once or twice in your lifetime. Well, in 2006, over 71 Taco Bell customers across five states developed a listeria infection after eating there. Eight people had developed kidney failure, and 53 people were hospitalized due to the infection. 

We know you are wondering: was it the meat? No, in this case, authorities know the E. coli outbreak came from lettuce in California. Following the attack shortly after, these states had enacted stricter standards for how they handle their lettuce. It is essential to use completely different utensils, towels, and gloves when handling vegetables compared to meat, especially raw meat. Hopefully no other fast food joints have these problems again.

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Chipotle Mexican Grill is the latest spot to have a huge E. coli issue.

So, perhaps we spoke too soon because he is yet another fast food restaurant that experienced a major outbreak. And this one happened as recent as 2015. Between October and November in 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill had an E. coli outbreak. They reported that 55 people in 11 states became sick after eating food at the restaurant during the initial episode.

Luckily, none of the 55 people infected passed away from the E. coli outbreak. However, 22 were hospitalized. Then, a second outbreak occurred not long after at the same fast food chain. That time,, five people became ill, but it was from a different strain of E. coli than the first episode. So, that’s either bad luck or poor cleaning practices.

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More information about E. coli will hopefully help you prevent spreading the bacteria. 

This is one of the most diverse groups of bacteria. There are different serotypes, which means people have a different levels of severity depending on the strain. For example, the E. coli 0157:H7 serotype may cause Hemolytic Uremia Syndrome. That can lead to organ damage and even result in death. 

People with E. coli can be sick for five to ten days. However, severe cases can cause diarrhea with bloody stools. If you notice that, seek medical help immediately. Severe stomach pain and vomiting may also be present during infection. Not only do you have to cook ground beef thoroughly to prevent E. coli, but wash and cook certain veggies, like lettuce, sprouts, and spinach. Don’t consume unpasteurized dairy or juices, either. 

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Exposure to contaminated food can cause liver disease.

Hepatitis A is caused by infection with HAV, an RNA virus that is classified as a picornavirus. It was first isolated in 1979. Humans are the only natural host, although several nonhuman primates have been infected in laboratory conditions. Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. Toxins, immune diseases, alcohol misuse, or infection usually cause this. Viruses are generally the cause of the majority of cases of hepatitis. Hepatitis A is a type of hepatitis that results from infection by the hepatitis A virus or HAV. It is a short-term type of hepatitis, which doesn’t usually require treatment. This highly contagious form of hepatitis, however, can be spread through contaminated food and water. 

Symptoms of Hepatitis A may include jaundice, fever, dark urine, abdominal pain, vomiting, loss of appetite, and joint pain. Because there is no one particular treatment for hepatitis A, your doctor may recommend that you just rest, get a high fluid intake, and have a good, nutritious diet. To decrease outbreaks, the CDC recommends that all children 12 months and older and certain adults get the hepatitis A vaccine.

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Frozen strawberries caused a huge Hepatitis A outbreak in 1997.

In 1997, a hepatitis A outbreak affected 153 people in Calhoun County, Michigan. Yes, another foodborne illness in Michigan. Authorities linked the outbreak to frozen strawberries. The poisonous berries were for a federal school lunch program. People distributed them to schools across six other states. Sadly, the strawberries made 153 people sick, probably mostly children. Nevertheless, despite having symptoms of this liver disease, none of the victims died from the outbreak.

Please understand that a vaccine for Hepatitis A is available for all children 12 months or older in the US. That is also true for certain adults who did not receive the vaccine as a child. Immunizations help the immune system become fortified against the infectious agent in which the vaccine was for. Discuss various vaccines with your doctor to make sure you and your children are up-to-date on all of your shots.

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Strawberries were once again the culprit for an outbreak at Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

In 2016, there was an outbreak at Tropical Smoothie Cafe restaurants. Nine states reported problems. The CDC said that 143 people became sick after having smoothies made from frozen strawberries imported from Egypt. Of those 143 people, 56 had to go to the hospital. Thankfully nobody passed away as a result. Yes, you read that right. Strawberries were shipped all of the way from Egypt to the United States and causes a massive Hepatitis A outbreak.

Remember, there is no specific cure for Hepatitis A. However, people can receive treatment to help lessen the symptoms. This liver disease can cause loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, and jaundice. Also, be aware of other signs of dark urine, joint pain, and abdominal pain as these are linked to the disease.

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The largest Hepatitis A outbreak infected 555 people.

The largest outbreak of hepatitis A occurred at a Chi-Chi’s restaurant in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Yes, a Chi-Chi’s; do you remember those? So the year was obviously a while ago: 2003. About 555 people had caught the virus after eating contaminated food from the restaurant. Not only did hundreds of people get the liver disease, but three people actually passed away as a result. Investigators traced this episode to contaminated green onions. The food chain imported the green onions from Mexico. Furthermore, the staff mixed the green onions in the restaurant’s sala and chili con queso.

The restaurant chain is no longer operating. Don’t even try to ask Suri about it because she won’t know what you are talking about. Was there anything good that came as a result of this massive foodborne illness? This outbreak prompted the health department to provide hepatitis A vaccinations and post-exposure antibodies.

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The notorious story of Salmonella. 

Salmonella is often spread when people don’t properly wash their hands after using the toilet. As gross as it may sound, it’s true. You can also spread it by handling pets, especially birds and reptiles. Thorough cooking or pasteurization kills Salmonella bacteria. You are at risk of infection when you consume raw, undercooked, or unpasteurized foods. However, undercooked food usually causes Salmonella food poisoning. More specifically, undercooked eggs, undercooked turkey, chicken, or other poultry, unpasteurized juice or milk, and contaminated raw vegetables, fruits, or nuts. Symptoms of Salmonella food poisoning often come rapidly. You will notice them within 8 to 72 hours after eating the contaminated food or drinking bad water. Symptoms might be aggressive and can last for up to 2 days or 48 hours in some cases. 

The typical symptoms during this acute stage include diarrhea, chills, abdominal pain, cramping, or tenderness, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, fever, signs of dehydration, such as decreased or dark-colored urine, dry mouth, and low energy, and bloody stool. To help prevent food poisoning, a few things you can do include handling food properly, cooking foods to recommended internal temperatures, and refrigerating leftovers promptly. Clean counters before and after prepping high-risk foods, wash hands thoroughly, use separate utensils for raw and cooked items, and keep food refrigerated before cooking. If you own a bird or reptile, wear gloves or wash your hands thoroughly after handling, especially when cleaning their environments, as well. People with Salmonella who work in the food service industry should not to return to work or school until they haven’t had diarrhea for at least two days or 48 hours.

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In 1907, one woman affected over 3,000 people with salmonella in New York.

The first recorded salmonella outbreak took place in 1907. Almost 3,000 inhabitants of New York had been infected by Salmonella typhi. How did such a huge outbreak occur? It was probably because of a lady named Mary Mallon. She was born in Ireland in 1869 before emigrating to the United States in 1884. However, she was a carrier of Salmonella typhi. She thought she was healthy and worked in various domestic positions. During that time, Mallon became employed by wealthy families. Eventually, she became a cook. However, because she assumed herself healthy, her denial of being sick allowed her to spread the illness.

Over the years, she gained the unfortunate yet accurate nickname of Typhoid Mary. Authorities forced her into quarantine two different times. Both occasions, she lived on North Brother Island. Mallon was in quarantine for 26 years until she passed away. Although she had no friends of family nearby, Mallon apparently found solace in her faith.

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PCA went bankrupt because of a salmonella outbreak.

In 2009, the Peanut Corporation of America, or PCA, experienced a  massive salmonella outbreak. The CDC reported that 714 people got sick. Furthermore, nine people died from the contaminated peanut butter. In return, PCA prompted a recall of over 3,600 peanut butter products at that time. The Peanut Corporation of America is now bankrupt. It is most likely because they had to compensate the victims as well as the families of the deceased.

Remember, most people do recover from salmonella infections. It can take four to seven days of rest, extra fluids, electrolytes, and antibiotics. If you experience diarrhea paired with a fever and abdominal cramps, it might be salmonella poisoning. You can take antidiarrheal medications to help with the symptoms as well. If the symptoms don’t go away, or continue to get worse after a week, seek medical help.

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A company had to throw away 36 million pounds of turkey because of salmonella.

Maybe you like turkey burgers, or just really love that classic Thanksgiving meat. Whatever the case may be, Cargill had to toss out millions of pounds of ground turkey. Why? Because at least one person died from salmonella after eating the product. Another 136 people became ill across 34 states. It all happened in 2011 when the suspected meat had an antibiotic-resistant strain. That means, even with prescribed medicine, the infection will only get worse and spread.

It is important to make sure you cook meat all of the way through to kill any bacteria present. Not only that, but make sure you always wash your hands after dealing with raw meat. That goes double before you touch anything else like fruits or veggies. Keep your counters clean using different towels for different surfaces and dirty juices.

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There are no winners with these chicken dinners.

When people think of salmonella poisoning, they usually think of that sloppy chicken liquid floating around the counters. That might have been the culprit for this next foodborne illness outbreak. In 2013, a chicken producer in California possibly infected about 634 people with salmonella food poisoning. Forster Farms is the root of the problem according to authorities.

Not only did 29 states report problems with the chicken, but even Puerto Rico had cases of food poisoning because of it. Thankfully, nobody died from the outbreak. At that time, the company had issued a voluntary recall on all Foster Farms brand chicken products. Although we are not entirely sure we the recall wasn’t an issue with the FDA, we are grateful they voluntarily made the right decision.

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Cucumbers infected 907 people, and six of them died.

What was the most recent salmonella outbreak that wrecked havoc on everyone? It was in 2015. The culprit was cucumbers from Mexico. Andrew and Williamson Fresh Produce imported and distributed them across 40 states. Unfortunately, they were tainted with the bacteria and infected 907 people. Yes, almost 1,000 people became sick because of these contaminated cucumbers.

Out of the 907 cases, over 200 of them resulted in hospitalizations. Not only that, but six people even died because of the outbreak. Since the spread of the illness, the company has issued two separate recalls. Perhaps that means the outbreak actually came from different strains. Talk about bad luck and poor cleaning practices.

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Gain more knowledge about the bacterium known as salmonella. 

The most common sources for spreading this bacterium include meats, fruits, spices, and eggs. Yes, it is a wide range of foods. Not only that, but you have to add raw, untreated tree nuts to that list, too. People who contract salmonella will feel sick for four to seven days. That is, in most cases, of course, unlike some within this list of the worst foodborne illness outbreaks throughout history. 

Most cases of salmonella poisoning cause diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting. However, you may also get a fever. In those severe cases, people contracted enteric fever. Please seek medical attention if you have had a high fever for a long time. 

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We haven’t even mentioned the most common culprit of foodborne illnesses yet: campylobacter. 

You probably have never heard of this bacterium, but it could have infected you before. It spreads through raw and undercooked meat, fish, and poultry. You can also get campylobacter from dairy products and contaminated water. It causes diarrhea, cramping, and abdominal pain, along with fever. Nausea and vomiting are other signs of campylobacter infection. If you have bloody stool, seek medical help. This foodborne illness can last two to ten days after eating or drinking the bacteria. 

Do you want to know an easy way to avoid contracting this foodborne illness? Make sure your meat, fish, and poultry are cooked thoroughly. You can cut the raw meat open during the cooking process. If you thoroughly cook your meat, it should not be pink or red anymore, but instead brown. You can also use a cooking thermometer to test the internal temperature of the meat. 

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Norovirus is highly contagious and will cause foodborne illness. 

If you have stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting, that is not normal. That is particularly true if you just ate or drank something that seemed off earlier in the day. This virus is very contagious, especially for young kids and older adults who are susceptible to contracting viruses. The illness lasts anywhere from one to three days. However, children and the elderly, as well as people with weakened immune systems, may become hospitalized and have severe symptoms for up to six days. 

What is the common source of norovirus? If someone who has the virus prepares a meal using fresh produce, it can easily spread. Shellfish, meats, and ready-to-eat foods like sandwiches, salads, cookies, and ice cream can also be the culprit if an infected person touches them. Drinking contaminated water is also a big no-no. 

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Vacationing in the tropics is fun, but beware of those single-cell parasites. 

Cyclospora cayetanensis might sound like an island with palm trees, but it is actually a single-cell parasite. It is commonly found in the tropics on fresh produce locally harvested there. Foods that might contain the parasite include herbs like basil and cilantro. Some varieties of lettuce can also carry it along with snow peas and even raspberries. 

Unfortunately, you can become sick for a few days — or even a month or longer! Moreover, the symptoms are anything but typical of other foodborne illnesses. Cyclospora cayetanensis causes frequent, explosive bowel movements along with watery diarrhea. Abdominal cramps, nausea, and fatigue can also linger throughout the duration of the illness. As a result of a long sickness, a person can experience weight loss

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After that doozy, let’s discuss a less severe foodborne illness. 

You probably weren’t aware that these serious conditions still could affect you today. However, we mentioned earlier that there are dozens of toxins, parasites, and bacteria that live within our world. Sometimes they get on our foods and contiminate them. Usually, people wash the food or cook it enough to eliminate these types of germs. Luckily, with this next case, you probably will only experience a mild condition. Clostridium perfringens sounds like you are calling this bacterium a bad name for getting you sick. However, that is actually the name of bacteria that causes diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Well, one of the many. You will feel these symptoms within six to 24 hours of consuming raw beef or poultry. Although typical cases last less than a day, severe cases can continue for one to two weeks. 

Sometimes people refer to this foodborne illness as the buffet germ. Why? Because it proliferates in large food portions. Think potluck casseroles or holiday gravies that are left under heat lamps for too long. This type of food handling creates an unhealthy atmosphere. You should not leave certain products in room temperature conditions for too long if they require refrigeration. Make sure you have hot, fresh foods when you eat, especially at restaurants where the food handling is out of your own control.

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Are any foods safe from spreading this foodborne illness?

Staphylococcus aureus is another common bacterium that spreads foodborne illnesses. Sources range from unpasteurized milk and dairy products to undercooked meats. Foods that need extensive handling and preparation can quickly spread this bacterium. It includes things like sliced meats, sandwiches, pastries, and salads like macaroni, potato, chicken, or tuna. 

Luckily, the duration of this foodborne illness only lasts about one day. It is found on the skin of humans. This bacterium also lives in the nose, making it easy to spread. However, it has the potential to become a toxin that contaminates food when touched by those handling it. That is why it is always important to wash your hands with warm water and soap when preparing meat and produce. Staphylococcus aureus will cause typical foodborne symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. 

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Vibrio vulinficus is a mouthful to say — and feel! 

Do you love eating shellfish? Oysters and similar foods aren’t for everyone. However, those who like them, love them! Nevertheless, you have to be careful consuming these delicacies. If you get sick for about three days after eating raw or undercooked shellfish, you’ll know why. It’s because of bacteria known as vibrio vulinficus. Oysters are a particularly common source of this bacterium. Although it naturally grows and thrives in warmer waters, people may consume it if they eat undercooked shellfish, like oysters. 

What happens when a person becomes infected with this bacteria? You can expect the typical symptoms, like watery diarrhea and abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting. However, you might also get a fever and experience chills during your three days of illness. Although you might enjoy feasting on shellfish and dining on oysters, make sure you cook them all the way through before you consume them. 

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Pay attention to food recalls to prevent foodborne illness.

Since food poisoning is not 100% preventable, there are several things you can do to shield yourself from consuming anything contaminated. Do you know what a food recall is? We mentioned a few in this article. Companies have to recall any food that is suspected of contamination. That doesn’t mean someone has to be already sick with an infection to have a recall.

How can you learn about these important announcements? Grocery stores often list any recalls for products by a customer service post. Not only that, but you can sign up for special emails that warn you of emergency recalls. Government inspections and food handling regulations are also helpful preventive measures workers use to keep your food safe. Pay attention to these food recalls, inspections, and other regulations. That way, you can lower your risk of food poisoning by not buying any of these products while they are on recall.

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Follow these four simple steps when it comes to preventing food poisoning.

According to foodsafety.gov, you can follow four simple steps to prevent food poisoning. Those include cleaning, separating, cooking, and chilling. You should clean germs by washing your hands with warm water and soap, especially after handling raw meat and before grabbing any fruits or veggies. Also make sure you wash your food, utensils, cutting boards, and countertops thoroughly. Separate means you shouldn’t cross-contaminate any products by using the same cutting boards or plates. Meat, seafood, poultry, and produce all should have their own spots.

Finally, make sure you cook everything to the proper temperature. Why? Because consuming under-cooked or raw meat can cause foodborne illness. Ensuring the proper internal temperature means it is hot enough to kill germs. Chilling involves refrigerating and freezing food properly. If food is perishable, it should be refrigerated within two hours of consumption.

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Seek medical attention if you have the following symptoms.

We know this is a lot of information to take in at once. Learning thousands of people die in the United States from foodborne illnesses is a bit scary. Why? Because the advanced society is not a third-world country with prepping, cooking, and refrigeration issues. Please remember that food poisoning can be life threatening, especially for children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. Although people do recover from many infections, you should see a doctor if you have serious symptoms, such as blood vomit or stools or extreme abdominal pain. Beware of signs of dehydration like dizziness, decreased urination, and palpitations.

Blurry vision and a fever greater than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit should also send you to the doctor’s office. If you have diarrhea lasting more than three days straight, make sure you seek medical help. That doesn’t even have to contain bloody stools. Beware that you may start losing weight if the illness lasts for several days or weeks. If for whatever reason you think a food you are able to eat might be contaminated or spoiled, just throw it away in the garbage. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your health.

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