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Keep Foodborne Illness on the Bench for Spring Sports

Hotdogs and baseballs.Spring is a special time in the sports world; Major League Baseball (MLB) begins its regular season while the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) begin their playoffs. As diehard sports fans dig into the latest statistics about their favorite teams, we want to share some statistics about foodborne illness our public health team is working to beat.

CDC estimates that 48 million Americans (one in six) fall ill with food poisoning annually, resulting in more than 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Considering those odds it is likely that you, someone you know, or some of your favorite MLB, NHL or NBA players may be impacted by food poisoning this season. With that impact in mind, let’s take a look at some of the key players on ‘Team Foodborne Illness’ and what you can do to make sure you stay in the game. 

Team Foodborne Illness Scouting Report

  • Bacteria – This is a common source of foodborne illness and can include players such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria.
    • Speed: Onset of symptoms may be hours, days, or weeks depending on the bacteria and the individual.
    • Superlatives: Clostridium botulinum can create toxins and develop spores which are difficult to destroy.  Refer to USDA's Complete Guide to Home Canning to ensure C. botulinum doesn’t make an appearance in home canned foods.
  • VirusesNorovirus is a star for Team Foodborne Illness.  Norovirus accounts for roughly 50% of all outbreaks of food related illness.
    • Speed: Onset of symptoms range from 12-48 hours.
    • Superlative:  Norovirus can spread easily when ready to eat foods touch surfaces or hands that have not been sufficiently cleaned and sanitized.  Always wash hands for a full 20 seconds with warm water and soap before touching, preparing, or eating foods.
  • Toxins – Some toxins are naturally produced by food, while others are a product of contaminants growing on foods, such as mold.
    • Speed: Growth of mold is faster in high acid foods, like ham, bacon, salami and bologna. Mold can grow at temperatures found in the refrigerator.
    • Superlatives:  Specific foods can have mold removed and be safe to eat, like hard cheese or FIRM fruits and vegetables.  With these foods, cut off at least 1 inch around and below the mold spot. Other foods such as luncheon meats, bacon, hot dogs, and leftover cooked meats need to be discarded if mold is observed.  Learn more about Mold on Food .
  • ParasitesToxoplasma gondii is one of Team Foodborne Illness’ designated hitters.  Some individuals have the parasite but do not become ill.  For those that do become ill, especially pregnant women, it can be very serious.
    • Speed:  Onset of symptoms range from 1-3 weeks.
    • Superlative:  Undercooked meats and cat feces can be a means of transfer to humans.  Pregnant women should avoid contact with cat feces, including litter that may be contaminated and wash hands thoroughly with warm water and soap before handling or eating foods.

Stopping Team Foodborne Illness

Now that you know some the players on Team Foodborne Illness, here are a few ways to make sure you eliminate them.  

  • After every 20 minutes of play in the NHL, a Zamboni cleans the rink by using water and scrubbing all surfaces of the ice.  Be like a Zamboni when you wash your hands - wash for a full 20 seconds with warm water and soap and scrub all surfaces of your hands, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Teams start out each game with new uniforms; make sure you start out your cooking game with a fresh kitchen towel. Kitchen towels should be washed often with the hot cycle of a washing machine. If you have a family member that is ill with diarrhea or is vomiting, make sure they are not cooking, preparing, or serving food to others.
  • Athletes use ice baths to make sure they stay healthy, serve cold foods in containers and on ice baths to keep your family healthy. If tailgating, use one cooler for perishable foods and another for drinks.
  • Finally, stop Team Foodborne Illness from making a comeback in your food by using leftovers within 3 to 4 days and re-heating them to an internal temperature of 165° F.

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Posted in: Bacteria/Virus | Food Safety Science | SeasonalTagged: Salmonella