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Where Food Poisoning Begins…It May Surprise You

Where Food Poisoning Begins…It May Surprise You

Where does foodborne illness (commonly called food poisoning) originate?  If you guessed “in the kitchen,” you’d be missing a big part of the picture.  Although disease detectives can discover germs and toxins from contaminated food (that has made people sick) from the kitchens of private homes and restaurants—these places are not necessarily where harmful viruses and bacteria enter the food.

Food contamination can occur at any point along the food production chain – on farms or fishing vessels, in food processing facilities, during transportation and storage, or at grocery stores and restaurants.  Certainly safe food handling in the home does play a critical role in preventing food poisoning which is why government agencies are actively providing consumer education and information on food safety.  However, a look at some of the more  significant outbreaks over the past year shows that the food was contaminated before it entered the home:

  • Salad Products – cyclosporiasis, an intestinal infection caused by the parasite Cyclospora cayetanensis, has so far caused more than 640 cases of foodborne illness, some which have been linked to imported salad mixes and some to imported cilantro.
  • Cheeses – listeriosis, a bacterial infection, caused by Listeria monocytogenes, was linked to domestically produced products from a company in Wisconsin.  The outbreak sickened 6 people, one of whom died and another suffered a miscarriage.
  • Pomegranate seeds -- Hepatitis A, a viral infection of the liver, was linked to the imported pomegranate seeds in an organic anti-oxidant fruit blend product.  The outbreak made 162 people ill.
  • Tahini -- salmonellosis, a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella, was linked to imported tahini, a paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds. The outbreak sickened 16 people, including one death.
  • Cucumbers -- salmonellosis was linked to  imported cucumbers which sickened 84 people.
  • Frozen pizza, sandwiches and cheese novelties--E. coli was linked to a variety of frozen pizza, sandwich and cheese products from a plant in Georgia which infected 35 people, two of whom developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.

Under the Food Safety Modernization Act, FDA has proposed regulations requiring preventive controls at key points in the farm-to-table food supply chain to help ensure food safety. These new rules would apply to both imported and domestic food products regulated by FDA:

  • Preventive Controls for Human Food proposes that food companies—whether they manufacture, process, pack or store food—put controls in place to minimize and reduce the risk of contamination.
  • Produce Safety proposes that farms that grow, harvest, pack or hold fruits and vegetables follow standards aimed at preventing their contamination.
  • Foreign Supplier Verification Programs proposes that food importers would have to verify that their suppliers are meeting the same U.S. safety standards required of domestic producers.

These new rules will help keep contaminated foods out of the marketplace and out of people’s homes. But that doesn’t lessen the importance of safe food handling by consumers in the home. Contamination can occur or spread in the kitchen.  Never ignore the four simple steps to food safety.

Posted in: Kitchen SafetyTagged: Food Prep | Kitchen