According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), consumers spend about half of their food budget on meals prepared outside of their homes. This statistic is significant, because 60 percent of foodborne outbreaks are reportedly caused by fare which is prepared in restaurants. Does this mean you should baton down the hatches and resolve never to eat out again? Not at all. After all; 40 percent of food that has the capacity to make you sick is sitting in your own pantry or refrigerator. So the best course of action is to make sure you take necessary precautions to remain food-safe, no matter where you choose to dine. I choose to dine wherever there is bacon or pork chops. But that’s just me.
What is Foodborne Illness?
An infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, foodborne illnesses are caused by foods or beverages that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, or chemicals. Yuck! Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and chills. In more severe cases, patients may experience headaches, tingling or numbness of the skin, blurred vision, weakness, dizziness, and paralysis. Yuck.
I’m glad dogs have a strong constitution. We can get sick from contaminated food, if it contains Salmonella, which is one type of bacteria. We can also suffer from what is known as Garbage Intoxication – ingesting decomposing carrion, garbage, spoiled food, moldy nuts or grains or infected compost. I guess this is a reason I should refrain from rifling through the fire station trash!
Here are some additional facts about foodborne illnesses:
- Each year, an estimated 48 million people in the United States experience a foodborne illness.
- Most foodborne illnesses are acute, meaning they come on suddenly and are short-lived. They certainly aren’t “cute.” So I’m glad to clear that up!
- Many people who contract foodborne illnesses wrongly assume they have the stomach flu.
- Most victims recover on their own, without medical intervention.
- For people whose immune systems are compromised – such as the sick, children or the elderly – foodborne illness might lead to more serious complications.
- In the U.S., foodborne illnesses cause 128,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths each year.
Five Steps for Food Safety When Dining Out
- Assess the scene. Look for certificates that show food-safety practices (e.g., most recent health inspection score and manager’s completion of food-safety training). Note whether the glasses, silverware, napkins and table cloths and restroom are clean. As a rule, restaurateurs who keep facilities clean also pay attention to the condition of their kitchens.
- Cook it well. Make sure your food has been thoroughly cooked. It is particularly important for foods like meat, poultry, and fish to be cooked thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.
- Pick the right place. To be safe, eat sushi only in A-rated kitchens, which purchase sushi-grade fish. If you feel uneasy at a restaurant, don’t second-guess the instinct. Better to be safe than sorry.
- Ask before ordering. Beware of potential hazards in raw foods and undercooked eggs, chicken, pork or fish. Ask for meats to be well-done. Check to make sure sauces have been commercially pasteurized.
- Refrigerate leftovers—post haste. Unless you are heading right home, leave leftovers behind. As a rule, food should be stowed in cold storage within two hours of being served or, one hour if temperatures are above 90°F. So, storing leftovers in the car while you see a movie is a bad idea. Better idea? Give it to the dog, when you get home, just to be safe. The takeout containers they provide at restaurants are called “Doggie Bags” for a reason!
Five Steps for Food Safety When Dining In
1. Follow proper food preparation rules. When it comes to food prep, proper hygiene is critical. Wash your hands before handling food. And, as you work, pay close attention to which surfaces and utensils come in contact with raw meat and juices. Scrub everything in hot soapy water.
2. Keep hot food hot. Once food is cooked, it should be held at an internal temperature of 140°F or above. Storing food on top of the stove to keep it warm (between 40°F and 140°F) is not safe. Use a food thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the food and, when in doubt, throw it out!
3. Keep cold food cold. Follow the above rules for cold foods, as well. But make sure internal temperature is kept at or below 40°F.
4. Follow the two-hour rule. Throw away perishable foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, and casseroles and side dishes containing eggs or mayonnaise, if they have been left at room temperature longer than two hours (or one hour if temperatures are above 90°F).
5. Eat leftovers sooner rather than later. If you prepare more food than your family consumes at any given time, put leftovers in the fridge or freezer—and eat them within three to four days.
How to treat foodborne illness
The most common treatment for mild cases of foodborne illness is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. If you suspect you have contracted foodborne illness, drink plenty of liquids such as fruit juices, sports drinks, caffeine-free soft drinks, and broths. Older adults and adults with weak immune systems should also drink oral rehydration solutions to prevent dehydration. I drink plenty of water for maximum hydration.
Over-the-counter medications may also be helpful, as they can be used to halt diarrhea in adults. However, these could pose a danger to infants and children, so contact your healthcare provider for information about treating children. As you begin to recover, gradually reintroduce a bland, “BRAT” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast). Also recommended for recovery are easy-to-digest foods such as potatoes, bread, cereal and lean meat. During recovery, also avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar, or which contain dairy products, caffeine, and alcohol.
We hope that this blog post will help you take steps to stay healthy and avoid contracting foodborne illness. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. Visit RJWestmore.com to read about the many ways proper planning can make a difference in numerous aspects of your professional and personal life.